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Think Tank Decries Global Push to Privatise Land

September 28, 2020
Ceylon Today

By P.K. Balachandran

One of the ugliest features of the modern world is the exploitation of natural resources for private gain, irrespective of its consequences for the environment and the larger community, especially the poor majority.

Humanity has started consuming the world’s natural resources faster than they can be replenished. Governments, corporations, and international financial institutions are wanting to put land to “productive use” in the name of “economic development and prosperity for all,” despite hard evidence that this has only led to an increase in poverty, says the US-based liberal think tank, The Oakland Institute, in its latest report titled: Driving dispossession: The global push to unlock the economic potential of land.

“To attract private investment, governments are marketing hundreds of millions of hectares of land as available without regard for those whose livelihoods depend upon it. They ignore the fact that as much as 65 per cent of the world’s land area is held by communities as a whole under customary laws and not by individuals. Billions of people rely on communally managed natural resources such as rivers, lakes, forests, and savannas for their livelihoods. For most of the people, land is a common good, valued as an ancestral asset with social and cultural significance,” the report pointed out.

Governments and corporations are eager to convert smallholder farms, grasslands, and forests into monoculture plantations, cattle ranches, and mines. But this only contributes to climate change, environmental degradation, displacement, loss of income and poverty, the report says.

Western governments and Western institutions like the IMF, and the World Bank are pushing for the privatisation of land by dangling money in front of poor countries. In its 2017 report titled: Enabling the Business of Agriculture, the World Bank prescribed formalising private property rights, easing the sale and lease of land for commercial use, systematising the sale of public land by auction, and improving procedures for expropriation. Money was made available for such projects as an incentive.

COVID-19 exploited

The report cites the case of Ukraine to show how even the distress caused by COVID-19 is exploited to sell a dangerous capitalist idea.

“In Ukraine, the IMF has leveraged the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic to coerce Europe’s breadbasket into creating a land market, despite overwhelming opposition in the country. In March 2020, Ukraine ended the moratorium on the sale of land that had stood for 19 years, to qualify for a desperately needed US$ 5 billion loan package from the IMF. The World Bank, along with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), has been laying the groundwork for the creation of a land market to the benefit of agribusiness and private investors who promise growth in exchange for access to land. Farmers, agricultural workers, unions, and the vast majority of the population of Ukraine have staunchly opposed the creation of a land market.”

Blockchain technology

The land market is now getting speedily international with the adoption of ‘blockchain’ technology by many countries. The blockchain technology creates a database that is shared through a network of computers across the world. According to The Oakland Institute, the former CEO, Patrick M. Byrne, has said the use of blockchain for land titles will help unlock trillions of dollars in global mineral reserves that are inaccessible due to unclear land governance systems. In 2018, Byrne signed a multi-country partnership with the World Bank to expand the use of blockchain for registering land around the world.