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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

I Speak without Fear: Where Are Our Loved Ones Who Have Been Abducted, Arrested, and Disappeared?

In December 2014, the Oakland Institute carried out research and fieldwork in Sri Lanka in order to understand and document the state of land conflicts and displacement amid accusations of land grabs experienced by the Tamils and other minorities at the hands of the Sri Lankan army and the government. While investigating the land grabs, the research team witnessed discrimination, harassment by the police, and horrors of the civil war that...

My Home My Land cover

My Home My Land

My Home, My Land is a graphic representation of much of the Oakland Institute's work on land grabs. Illustrated by the Institute's Intern Scholar, Abner Hauge, this publication dismantles the many myths promoted by so-called donor countries, development agencies, and corporations about the positive effects of foreign direct investments through large-scale land acquisitions.

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We Say the Land is Not Yours report cover

We Say the Land is Not Yours: Breaking the Silence Against Forced Displacement in Ethiopia

Over the past six years, the Oakland Institute has been at the forefront of exposing the social, economic, and environmental impacts of foreign land grabs in Ethiopia. This work has been based on extensive fieldwork and research on human rights abuses against and forced evictions of indigenous populations in the Lower Omo and Gambella regions; detailed briefs on the impacts of specific land development projects, such as the Saudi Star Rice Farm...

Engineering Ethnic Conflict report cover

Engineering Ethnic Conflict: The Toll of Ethiopia's Plantation Development on Suri People

Recently dubbed “Africa’s Lion” (in allusion to the discourse around “Asian Tigers”), Ethiopia is celebrated for its steady economic growth, including a growing number of millionaires compared to other African nations. However, as documented in previous research by the Oakland Institute, the Ethiopian government’s “development strategy,” is founded on its policy of leasing millions of hectares (ha) of land to foreign investors. Implementation of...

Unfolding Truth: Dismantling the World Bank's Myths on Agriculture and Development report cover

Unfolding Truth: Dismantling the World Bank's Myths on Agriculture and Development

In the 1980s and 1990s, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) intervention in developing countries’ national policies, through aid conditionality and austerity programs known as Structural Adjustments Programs (SAPs), triggered a wave of global resistance against the International Financial Institutions (IFIs). in the face of growing criticism that these policies increased poverty, debt, and dependency on rich countries, saps...

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Blog

Ethiopia: The Time for Change is Now!

Thursday, September 15, 2016 Elizabeth Fraser

This is a critical moment for Ethiopia. The US Government, United Nations leaders, and the international media are all paying attention to the abuses taking place, and finally giving these atrocities the attention they deserve. Now, more than ever, the international community needs to follow through on its responsibility. We must not accept the introduction of a bill or the pardoning of 1,000 as enough. Instead, we must continue to call for...

Growing Protests Bring Ethiopia to the Tipping Point

Tuesday, September 6, 2016 Anuradha Mittal

The past weeks have seen an escalation of ongoing protests across Ethiopia--including widespread acts of resistance like citizens shaving their heads in solidarity with jailed opposition leader Bekele Gerba and stay-at-home protests that have turned bustling cities into near ghost-towns. Despite the undeniable peacefulness of these actions, state violence and repression has continued. Earlier this month, Ethiopia's Prime Minister authorized the...

Community Resistance to Senhuile Land Grab Sparks Hope in Senegal

Thursday, September 1, 2016 Alice Martin-Prével

Senegalese agro-pastoralists are striking wins against Senhuile SA, a foreign-owned agribusiness company established in Ndiaël, Saint-Louis Region of Senegal. In 2012, Senhuile obtained a 50 year lease on 20,000 hectares for a sweet potato plantation in a forest and wetland reserve, which was partially declassified to establish agribusiness activities.

Feyisa Lilesa: Crossing the Line in Ethiopia

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 Anuradha Mittal

As Feyisa Lilesa, the Ethiopian marathon runner, crossed the finish line on Sunday, winning silver for his country at the Rio Olympics, his hands were crossed high above his head. To some viewers, it might have been a symbol of triumph at the end of a long race. But to those following the political turmoil in Ethiopia, it was a heroic – and dangerous – political act, sending a message globally about the plight of his people.

European Union Bankrolls Deceitful Land Project in Ethiopia

Saturday, July 30, 2016 Alice Martin-Prével

The European Union and Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development are funding a €3.8 million ($4.2 million) agricultural initiative in Ethiopia. "Support to Responsible Agricultural Investment" (S2RAI), launched in March 2016, is a three-year long project focused on two western regions of Ethiopia: Gambella and Benishangul-Gumuz. According to documents made public at the project-launching workshop in Bishoftu on July 15-...

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