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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

Backroom Bullying Report Cover

Backroom Bullying: The Role of the United States Government in the Herakles Farms’ Land Grab in Cameroon

Backroom Bullying: The Role of the United States Government in the Herakles Farms’ Land Grab in Cameroon, shows how bullying by US government officials may have played a critical role in the granting of nearly 20,000 ha by the Cameroonian government to the US-based firm Herakles Farms in 2013, instead of the cancellation of clearly flawed project. Using information obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, this report reveals not...

Waiting to Return Home Cover

Waiting to Return Home: Continued Plight of the IDPs in Post-War Sri Lanka

Threatened and despaired, a group of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sri Lanka petitioned the Oakland Institute to help them return home. This inspired the Institute’s latest report, Waiting to Return Home: Continued Plight of the IDPs in Post-War Sri Lanka . Backed by extensive field research and interviews, the report highlights a harsh reality—amid United Nations resolutions, task forces, and numerous promises made by the Sirisena...

The Unholy Alliance Report Cover

The Unholy Alliance, Five Western Donors Shape a Pro-Corporate Agenda for African Agriculture

The Unholy Alliance, Five Western Donors Shape a Pro-Corporate Agenda for African Agriculture, exposes how a coalition of four donor countries and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is shaping a pro-business environment in the agricultural sector of developing countries, especially in Africa.

The Great Timber Heist Cover

The Great Timber Heist: The Logging Industry in Papua New Guinea

The Great Timber Heist: The Logging Industry in Papua New Guinea , exposes massive tax evasion and financial misreporting by foreign logging companies, allegedly resulting in nonpayment of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. Papua New Guinea (PNG) is home to the world’s third largest rainforest. After the lease of 5.5 million hectares of land in recent years through the Special Agriculture and Business Lease scheme , today over 15 million...

Report Cover

Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Law: A Tool to Stifle Dissent

Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Law: A Tool to Stifle Dissent , authored by lawyers from leading international law firms, provides an in-depth and damning analysis of Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. The report examines how the law, enacted in 2009, is a tool of repression, designed and used by the Ethiopian Government to silence its critics.

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Blog

Ethiopian army soldiers monitoring Suri people during a festival in Kibish. Credit: Oakland Institute.

Trump, Ethiopia: Neither is Normal

Tuesday, November 29, 2016 Elizabeth Fraser

In the weeks since Donald Trump was elected, many have focused on the need to not normalize the man, his words, or his actions. 1 This call is vital. We cannot normalize having someone in the White House who has become the very face of bigotry, islamophobia, white supremacy, misogyny, and contempt for the environment. Ethiopian army soldiers monitoring Suri people during a festival in Kibish. Credit: Oakland Institute. This call has also got me...

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

Ethiopia’s State of Emergency: Authorizing Oppression

Thursday, October 20, 2016 Elizabeth Fraser, Anuradha Mittal

The government of Ethiopia has responded to a groundswell of protests, which are calling for democracy and human rights for all, by imposing a six-month long state of emergency, effective October 8.

Ethiopia: Rising African Lion Or Broken Dictatorship?

Thursday, September 29, 2016 Alice Martin-Prével

Earlier this year, the World Bank, in an enthusiastic account, praised “The Ethiopian Way” as an exceptional model, responsible for the country’s “successful development performance.” This accolade appears to be a case of amnesia, ignoring the severe political crisis that the country has plunged into since last year. Protests, stay-at-home strikes, and many other acts of resistance – including Olympic medallist Feyisa Lilesa’s widely broadcasted...

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...

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