Over the last eight years, there has been a significant increase in land-based investment, both in terms of the number of investment projects and the total land area allocated. Industrialized nations and private foreign investors have driven demand for arable land in developing regions, particularly in Africa, but also in South America, and Asia-Pacific.
The lands offered to investors are frequently in use although occupants lack legal claims to the land and access to legal institutions. As demand for land assets increases and governments and multilateral institutions promote land investment, displacement and impact on livelihoods have become serious sources of concern.
What we are doing about it
The Oakland Institute is committed to increasing transparency about land deals including the terms of the deals, the actors involved, and the impact on people and the environment.
Across the West Bank, farmers lost their land, livelihoods, and even their ability to visit their families when the separation wall was constructed. Under occupation, they also face massive water shortages as Israel diverts water from the Jordan River and the West Bank’s own Mountain Aquifer to Israel and its settlements. Controlling land and water. This is what the occupation is about.
The Palestinian refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are the largest and longest-standing case of displaced persons in the world today. Approximately 8 million out of 12.1 million Palestinians worldwide are forcibly displaced persons (66 percent).
In the village of Anata, northeast of Jerusalem, the home of Arabiya and Salim Shawamreh has been demolished seven times by the Israeli authorities. It is one of over 14,000 demolition orders issued between 1988 and 2014 against Palestinian-owned structures located in Area C of the West Bank.
Israel has brought large swaths of the Naqab desert (Negev in Hebrew) under cultivation. Onions, peppers, asparagus, eggplants, zucchini, Negev tomatoes with a one-month shelf life, peanuts, melons, cantaloupe, and even cotton make the desert green. But Israel’s efforts to further intensify agriculture in the desert face one obstacle – the semi-nomadic Arab Bedouins on their ancestral lands.
Jenin is a city located in the northern West Bank where Palestinian farmers used to grow the ba'al succulent watermelon known as Jadu'I. Under the occupation, the Jadu'I was nearly lost. But today, a new generation of agriculturalists are trying to revive it.
Nabi Salih is a small village with 600 residents located in central West Bank, around 20 kilometers northwest of Ramallah. Since 2009, the villagers have been holding weekly nonviolent marches to protest the Israeli occupation.
Israel’s land laws and military orders have “legalized” the dispossession and expropriation of Palestinian land for decades. This brief offers a short history of the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, followed by an examination of how government laws, plans, and actions in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory have allowed Israel to seize Palestinian land.
“The Israeli soldiers ask for my papers. I am turned away at the security point that blocks off Shuhada Street, which is open to the Israeli Jews and foreign visitors, but closed to the Palestinians. I do not have my US passport on me.”
Caanan Palestine helps Palestinian farmers to grow organic crops and get fair trade certification. Improved market access and increased returns on their crops makes it possible for thousands of Palestinian farmers and their families to earn a better living. The project gives hope for the future of food producers living and working under Israeli occupation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 administration, tens of thousands of IDPs in Sri Lanka still await resettlement, seven years after the end of the civil war.
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: 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.
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.
Peru has remained in the good grace of the World Bank. In 2015, it ranks 35th in the Bank’s Doing Business survey, with the second highest score in Latin America, indicating that the government has “created a regulatory environment conducive to business.” In 2008, Peru requested help from the Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) advisory services for the design of a new reform agenda launched in 2009. As a result, the World Bank’s Doing Business survey recorded 15 pro-business policy reforms ratified between 2010 and 2013, including fast-track procedures at the land registry, cuts in workers’ social benefits, and tax reductions for private companies. Following the reforms, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) doubled from $5.5 billion in 2007 to $10.2 billion in 2013. However, improving Peru’s business climate to attract foreign investment has had a severe toll on people, workers, and the environment, resulting in rising social conflicts.
This report presents the findings of an investigation carried out in Tanzania between 2011 and 2015 of KPL’s investment venture, focusing on the impacts experienced by surrounding communities.
The bloody civil war that ravaged Sri Lanka for 26 years officially ended in 2009 with the defeat of the minority Tamil separatists, led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The conflict, in which the LTTE opposed the government led by the majority Sinhalese Buddhists, killed around 200,000, led to the displacement of more than a million people, destroyed infrastructure across the country, and took a heavy toll on the lives and livelihoods of the population of the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
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 continue to torment minority groups, especially the Tamils, even today.
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.
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 and the Malaysian Koka plantation in Lower Omo; studies on the intersection between forced evictions and foreign aid by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the UK Department for International Development (DfID) and the World Bank; and more. These reports have led to numerous media articles, galvanizing public attention towards these issues, and legislative “wins” in the US, including specific language in the 2014 and 2015 Appropriations Bill that ensures US development funds to Ethiopia are not used to support activities that directly or indirectly involve forced evictions in Gambella and lower Omo.
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 this strategy involves human rights violations including coerced displacement, political repression, and neglect of local livelihoods, and places foreign and political interests above the rights and needs of local populations, especially ethnic groups who have historically been marginalized and neglected by the government.
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 acquisitions for climate change mitigation—including forestry plantations—severely compromise not only local ecologies but also the livelihoods of the some of the world’s most vulnerable people living at subsistence level in rural areas in developing countries.
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 were eventually withdrawn in 2002; however the World Bank, through renewed means, continues to pursue and impose its neoliberal agenda on the developing world.
From rising food prices to growing demand for biofuel, the current obsession for agricultural land borders on speculative mania as private companies, hedge funds, private equity funds, and sovereign wealth funds join the land rush looking for lucrative deals in the developing world. An estimated 500 million acres, an area about ten times the size of Britain, has been bought or leased in the developing world in the last decade. The social, economic, and environmental impacts of this trend have been extensively researched and made public by the Oakland Institute.
Established in 1944 with the objective of reducing poverty, the World Bank, headquartered in Washington, DC, is an international financial institution that provides financial and technical assistance as well as advisory services to enhance development in poor and transitioning countries. Despite its praiseworthy goals, the World Bank’s activities and undue influence over policy making in developing countries have come under heavy criticism over the years. Countless protests have denounced the Bank’s neoliberal agenda, which includes unfair conditionality policies, austerity measures that deny people’s right to healthcare or education, support for environmentally destructive projects, and sham debt relief.
Surrendering Our Future: Senhuile-Senethanol Plantation Destroys Local Communities and Jeopardizes Environment
Senhuile-Senéthanol, an agribusiness company, has been setting up agro-industrial plantations in the Saint-Louis region of northwest Senegal since July 2010. Owned by a complex maze of companies and individuals with ties to numerous countries around the world, including Italy, United States, Brazil, and Panama, the company holds a lease for 20,000 hectares of land. From the very inception of the project, Senhuile-Senéthanol has faced stiff resistance from local populations.
The first years of the twenty-first century will be remembered for a global land rush of nearly unprecedented scale. An estimated 500 million acres, an area eight times the size of Britain, was reported bought or leased across the developing world between 2000 and 2011, often at the expense of local food security and land rights. When the price of food spiked in 2008, pushing the number of hungry people in the world to over one billion, the interest of investors spiked as well, and within a year foreign land deals in the developing world rose by a staggering 200 percent. Today, enthusiasm for agriculture borders on speculative mania. Driven by everything from rising food prices to growing demand for biofuel, the financial sector is taking an interest in farmland as never before. As the Oakland Institute reported in 2012, a new generation of institutional investors—including hedge funds, private equity, pension funds, and university endowments—is eager to capitalize on global farmland as a new and highly desirable asset class.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, with more than 800 indigenous languages and over 600 islands. Among its many natural treasures, a unique asset is its rainforest, the third largest in the world and home to endangered wildlife, plants, and diverse groups of people. Yet a massive land rush is currently taking place in the country. In recent years, 12 percent of the country, 5.5 million hectares, has been leased out to foreign corporations.
In a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on September 15, 2013, the Oakland Institute and the Housing and Land Rights Network outlined the human rights and international law violations perpetrated by the government of Ethiopia in the name of country’s development strategy.
Ethiopia is a locus of international attention in the Horn of Africa due to both its consistently high rates of economic growth and for its continued problems with widespread hunger and poverty. The nation is also significant for being among the most dependent on foreign aid. Topping the worldwide list of countries receiving aid from the US, UK, and the World Bank, the nation has been receiving $3.5 billion on average from international donors in recent years, which represents 50 to 60 percent of its national budget.
Southern Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley is one of the most culturally and biologically diverse areas in the world, yet the Ethiopian government is transforming more than 375,000 hectares (1450 sq. miles) of the region into industrial-scale plantations for sugar and other monocrops. A vast resettlement scheme for the local ethnic groups is accompanying these plans, as 260,000 local people from 17 ethnic groups who live in the Lower Omo and around Lake Turkana—whose waters will be taken for plantation irrigation—are being evicted from their farmland and restricted from using the natural resources they have been relying on for their livelihoods.
A new report exposes the significant discrepancies between how Herakles Farms has represented their palm oil plantation project in Cameroon to the public and what it is telling prospective investors and creditors.
The aviation industry has high hopes for biofuels. As its profits are increasingly threatened by erratic fossil fuel prices, and as consumers are more and more concerned with the role of aviation in climate change, biofuels are being billed as the path to both profitability and sustainability. Unfortunately, emerging evidence suggests that as airlines rush to procure biofuel, they do so at the expense of people and the environment.
Millions of acres of Ethiopia’s most fertile land are being made available to investors, often in long-term leases and at giveaway prices. Although proponents of these investments call them “win-win” deals, the reality proves much different. To make way for agricultural investment, and through its so-called villagization program, the Ethiopian government has forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of indigenous people from their lands. This relocation process has destroyed livelihoods. It has rendered small-scale farmers and pastoralist communities dependent on food aid and fearful for their own survival. Ethiopian officials have also beaten, arrested, and intimidated individuals who have refused to comply with relocation policies.6 These actions are in direct contravention of Ethiopia’s obligations under international human rights law.
The Lower Omo Valley in Southern Ethiopia is internationally renowned for its unique cultural and ecological landscape. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Lower Omo Valley contains two national parks and is home to approximately 200,000 agro-pastoralists made up of some of Africa’s most unique and traditional ethnic groups, including the Kwegu, Bodi, Suri, Mursi, Nyangatom, Hamer, Karo, and Dassenach, among others.
Following the 2007-2008 financial crisis and the collapse of the housing market, private equity funds have found a new lucrative soft commodity market to invest in – farmland. In a short period of time, obscured from public view, the flow of private capital into farmland and agriculture has grown dramatically worldwide.
Dealing with Disclosure: Improving Transparency in Decision-Making over Large-Scale Land Acquisitions, Allocations, and Investments
The surge in large-scale commercial interest in land by domestic, international, private, and public actors has prompted a wide variety of stakeholders to consider how such investments may contribute to, rather than erode, local development priorities. The emerging body of evidence points to the significant risks of negative impacts on: access to and control over natural resources, household economies, food security, human rights, and the environment.
Special Investigation Phase Two: Understanding How Land Deals Contribute to Famine and Conflict in Africa
Phase two of our research on land grabs reveals how bad energy policies and development agendas contribute to famine and conflict in Africa.
Mozambique’s history of Portuguese colonialism, three wars, and then the imposition by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund of a harsh neo-liberal economic model led the government in the 1990s to accept the idea that the only way to promote development and end poverty was through encouraging foreign investment. Mozambique was identified by the World Bank as one of five sparsely populated African countries with large tracts of land available for rainfed cultivation. After 2000 rising food and fuel prices and new climate change-related attention on forests triggered the interest of investors in Mozambique, particularly for trees (for paper, timber and carbon credits) and agrofuels (notably sugar and jatropha).
On July 9, 2011, the Republic of South Sudan (RSS) became the world’s newest nation. Despite the significant strides that South Sudanese have made since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, South Sudan remains one of the least developed countries in the world. In order to meet its developmental challenges, the government of South Sudan has begun promoting large-scale private investments as a shortcut to rapid economic development.
Agricultural investment in Zambia is on the rise as the government of this Southern African country is quietly marketing and planning the development of at least 1.5 million hectares (ha) of its land. Abundant supplies of land and water, a “positive” investment climate, and political stability are all touted as incentives for investment. This report contains an analysis of agricultural investment trends in Zambia today.
After decades of limited interest in agriculture in developing countries, foreign direct investment (FDI) in agriculture is on the rise. In recent years, over 4 million hectares (ha) of land have been requested by foreign investors for both agrofuel and food production in Tanzania. Though a small portion of these (70,000 ha) had actually been formally leased as of December 2010, this confirms Tanzania as a very attractive country for foreign investors seeking to grow food and agrofuels for export.
A lot has happened in just a few months. The dynamic relationship between research, advocacy, and press has resulted in an amazing string of successes and organizing in the US and abroad. We are happy to share the results (so far) of our work with you.
The combined force of the U.S. based Oakland Institute's research and advocacy on African land deals and local, democratic activism in South Sudan has effectively stalled plans for the largest land deal in the area.
Read more about the Oakland Institute's ground-breaking research, which reveals previously unpublished details about land grabs across Africa.
For decades, Ethiopia has been known to the outside world as a country of famine, food shortages, endemic hunger, and chronic dependency on foreign aid. Despite receiving billions of dollars in aid, Ethiopians remain among the poorest in the world. Our research shows that at least 3,619,509 ha of land have been transferred to investors, although the actual number may be higher.
This report identifies and examines cases of large-scale land acquisitions in Mali. The report provides background on the institutional and political context of the country, the current macroeconomic situation, the state of food and agriculture, and the current investment climate. Additionally, it documents detailed information regarding four land investment deals currently being carried out in Mali.
Based on field research conducted between October 2010 and January 2011, this report provides new and important information on the social, political and economic implications of current land investments in Sierra Leone.
(Mis)Investment in Agriculture: The Role of the International Finance Corporation in the Global Land Grab
Oakland Institute’s report exposes the role of the Bank’s private sector branch, International Finance Corporation (IFC), in fueling land grabs, especially in Africa.
The Oakland Institute sounds the alarm on the threat that land grabbing poses to food security and livelihoods. Land grabs--the purchase of vast tracts of land from poor, developing countries by wealthier, food-insecure nations and private investors--have become a widespread phenomenon, with foreign interests seeking or securing between 37 million and 49 million acres of farmland between 2006 and the middle of 2009.