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Reframing the Debate: What does food waste have to do with land grabbing?

September 12, 2016
Huffington Post

Anuradha Mittal, Contributor Executive Director

This post was authored with Elizabeth Fraser, Policy Analyst at the Oakland Institute.

Conversations about food waste often raise three important concerns: global hunger,[1] wasted resources,[2] and greenhouse gas emissions.[3] There is, however, another aspect of the food waste story that is often overlooked – one that has to do with land.

Over the past decade, land grabs – the purchase or lease of large tracts of land in the Global South by wealthy countries or investors – have skyrocketed. Between 2000 and 2011, 203 million hectares of land – nearly eight times the size of Britain – were reportedly acquired through these deals.

For the past nine years, researchers at the Oakland Institute have investigated land grabs, examining who’s behind them, why they’re happening, and most importantly, what impact they’re having on the ground. A key driver behind these deals is a sense of urgency around scarcity. In the face of rising food prices and growing populations, proponents argue that land grabs (or "investments" as they are often called) can make way for increased industrial food production, and thus be a solution to food insecurity.

The same sense of scarcity has wooed investors to enter the land market – to speculate on the price of food and land with the hope of turning a profit. Our research uncovered a Texas-based company at the forefront of a deal to acquire up to one million hectares of land for just 40 cents per hectare per year. We spoke to a CEO who claimed that their company could be "moronic and not grow anything" and still make a profit off their lands in Africa. We exposed university pension funds looking to make a big buck by investing in equity firms that are grabbing land around the world. And much more.

To make matters worse, these deals, which are frequently promoted as "development," can involve the forced displacement of local communities – including indigenous groups, pastoralists, and subsistence farmers. Those who resist face threats, violence, exile, and even arrest.