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Land Rights

The purchase and lease of vast tracts of land from poor, developing countries by wealthier nations and international private investors has led to debate about whether land investment is a tool for development or force of displacement.

Overview

Secure land tenure is not just crucial to have a place to call home — it is also the basis of the livelihood for billions of people, especially Indigenous communities, farmers, herders, and fisherfolk. For the majority in this world, land is the common good, which communities share, preserve, and manage collectively.

However, following the 2007-2008 high food price crisis and financial crisis. looking for the next commodity to invest in, “investors” including multinational corporations, private equity firms, and pension funds, swarmed in to take over lands around the world. Their goal has been to convert smallholder farms, grasslands, and forests into monoculture plantations, cattle ranches, and mines.

Faced with this threat, local communities and Indigenous groups have been on the frontline in the struggle against land grabbing and destructive practices. Their claim over land and their resistance to its takeover is viewed as an obstacle to investment and business. This is why many governments around the world are encouraged to adopt the Western capitalist notion of private land ownership. Adopting this notion would make land a commodity and lead to the creation of land markets so that land can be leased or sold and put into so-called “productive use” to “unlock its value.” The World Bank is a key actor in the push to privatize and commodify land. In 2017, its Enabling the Business of Agriculture report prescribed policy measures to governments in order to “enhance the productivity of land use” and encourage agribusiness expansion. These included formalizing private property rights, easing the sale and lease of land for commercial use, and systematizing the sale of public land by auction.

However, the lack of evidence of development outcomes associated with the introduction of private title systems makes it clear that the privatization of land has nothing to do with fighting poverty or improving livelihoods. The “creation” of land markets has actually been repeatedly found to solidify existing inequalities in access to land. Within a market system where land is nothing more than a commodity, corporations and wealthy individuals can price farmers and herders, who rely on land for their livelihoods, out of the markets.

Whether it is through large-scale extractive or agricultural projects, urban expansion, or privatization schemes that transform land into a marketable commodity, the threats to land rights are multiple and severe, driving the displacement of local communities and the destruction of their livelihoods.

What we are doing about it
  • The Oakland Institute is a leading voice on land rights issues, working on the front line of the struggle to defend land rights, uncovering the drivers, the actors, and the impacts of land grabbing around the world.

  • Through research, policy analysis, and advocacy campaigns, we work directly with communities to defend their land rights when threatened by governments, private corporations, and international development institutions.

  • On the policy level, the Institute produces research and evidence that promote tenure systems, which ensure the land rights of communities, Indigenous Peoples, farmers, and pastoralists.

Publications

Carbon Colonialism Report Cover

Carbon Colonialism: Failure of Green Resources’ Carbon Offset Project in Uganda

Carbon Colonialism: Failure of Green Resources’ Carbon Offset Project in Uganda exposes the continued and relentless attacks of Green Resources on the rights of local people and the environment in Kachung, Uganda. Following the Institute’s exposé in 2014 , revealing the mistreatment and violence perpetrated by the company in Uganda, Green Resources’ only carbon credit buyer, the Swedish Energy Agency, suspended funding...

Justice Denied: Resettlement, Demilitarization, and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka

Justice Denied: A Reality Check on Resettlement, Demilitarization, and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka

Justice Denied exposes the many issues that continue to plague land release and resettlement in the country, and the failure of the Sri Lankan government to fulfill its international commitments to transitional justice. The Sri Lankan military continues to occupy large quantities of land; land released by the government is often of poor quality, hindering the ability of many to rebuild their livelihoods; there is a vast and unmet need for...

Illegal Logging Papua New Guinea:  Taking On the Logging Pirates Report Cover

Taking On the Logging Pirates: Land Defenders in Papua New Guinea Speak Out!

A landmark report from the Oakland Institute, Taking On the Logging Pirates: Land Defenders in Papua New Guinea Speak Out! elevates the voices of communities across the country who are opposing the theft of their land, made possible by the corrupt practices of local officials and foreign companies.

The Darker Side of Green: Plantation Forestry and Carbon Violence in Uganda

The Darker Side of Green: Plantation Forestry and Carbon Violence in Uganda

In recent years, there has been a significant trend toward land acquisition in developing countries, establishing forestry plantations for offsetting carbon pollution generated in the Global North. Badged as “green economic development,” global carbon markets are often championed not only as solutions to climate change, but as drivers of positive development outcomes for local communities. But there is mounting evidence that these corporate land...

Miracle or Mirage Report Cover

Miracle or Mirage? Manufacturing Hunger and Poverty in Ethiopia

As months of protest and civil unrest hurl Ethiopia into a severe political crisis, a new report from the Oakland Institute debunks the myth that the country is the new “African Lion.” Miracle or Mirage? Manufacturing Hunger and Poverty in Ethiopia exposes how authoritarian development schemes have perpetuated cycles of poverty, food insecurity, and marginalized the country’s most vulnerable citizens. A key government objective...

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Blog

A poster of Olympic silver medallist Feyisa Lilesa at a protest in Oakland, California. Making the crossed arm gesture is now a criminal offense under Ethiopia’s state of emergency. Credit: Elizabeth Fraser

A Fire under Ashes: The Ongoing Struggle for Human Rights in Ethiopia

Tuesday, June 27, 2017 Elizabeth Fraser

As massive protests swept across Ethiopia last year, the dire human rights situation in the country made headlines around the world. The Financial Times described it as Ethiopia’s “Tiananmen Square moment ,” and then-US Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Tom Malinowski called the government’s crackdowns on dissent “ self-defeating tactics .” A poster of Olympic silver medallist Feyisa...

Logging camp in Fergusson Island, Milne Bay. Credit: Paul Hilton/Greenpeace.

Laundering Illegal Timber: How Tropical Wood Stolen Through Land Grab Makes its Way to the Furniture Store

Thursday, June 8, 2017 Frederic Mousseau

With 3.1 million cubic meters of tropical wood exported, primarily to China, Papua New Guinea (PNG) became in recent years the world’s largest exporter of tropical wood, surpassing Malaysia, which had held the top spot for the past decades. PNG reached the coveted first place after expanding the exploitation of its forest resources through a legal mechanism called Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs). According to a government...

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Justice Denied: Government and International Community Fail to Bring Justice to Sri Lanka

Thursday, March 23, 2017 Elizabeth Fraser

For the past two months, protests have erupted across Sri Lanka’s North and East. Communities have launched rolling hunger strikes , insisting that their land be returned. Relatives of the missing have held sit-ins , demanding answers about their loved ones fates and whereabouts. And in numerous cities and towns people have marched, calling for the creation of a court with international judges to prosecute war crimes committed during the...

The World Bank’s Land Conference: Pro-Poor Bluff to Serve Neo-Colonialism

Monday, March 20, 2017 Alice Martin-Prével

This March 20, 2017, the World Bank’s 18th Annual Land and Poverty Conference begins, featuring a session where Bank specialists will deliver their assessment on the “quality” of land regulations globally. In particular, the Bank’s staff will comment on the implementation and findings of the Doing Business (DB) and the Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA), two projects that rank countries’ regulatory...

Credit: Donald Trump photo: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0. Maithripala Sirisena photo by Mr Sudath Silva / Maithripala Sirisena Official [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Image cropped, and color adjusted.

This Human Rights Day, Stand Up for Human Rights in Sri Lanka

Thursday, December 8, 2016 Elizabeth Fraser, Anuradha Mittal

December 10, 2016. This International Human Rights Day – themed “ Stand up for someone’s rights ” – there’s a lot to stand up for. In the weeks since Trump won the US Presidential election, hate crimes against Muslims, people of color, and immigrants have spiked; white nationalists have been appointed to top positions in the White House; and many of Trump’s election pledges – from deporting...

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