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World Bank Accused of Facilitating Land Grab in Developing Countries

April 9, 2014
Times of India

NEW DELHI: The World Bank has been accused of facilitating land grab in the garb of various ratings or ranking it does of countries such as the "ease of doing business" ranking and a new ranking system it is launching called "benchmarking the business of agriculture".

An international campaign against large scale land grab in developing countries pointed out that such rankings were just a way of pushing poor countries to transfer thousands of acres of land from small farmers and herders who feed 80% of the world to industrial farming corporations of the West.

The international campaign "Our Land Our Business" has been launched by the Oakland Institute, a US-based policy thinktank, working along with NGOs and farmers' and consumers' organizations, to hold the World Bank accountable for its role in "the rampant theft of land and resources from some of the world's poorest — farmers, pastoralists and indigenous communities". The campaign said the bank was facilitating land grabs and sowing poverty by putting the interests of foreign investors before those of locals.

The campaign's statement pointed out that the World Bank's "Ease of Doing Business" rankings, which scored countries "according to how Washington officials perceive the "ease of doing business" there, had caused many developing country leaders to deregulate their economies in hopes of attracting foreign investment". It added that what the World Bank considered beneficial for foreign business was very often the exact opposite for existing farmers and herders.

"In the agricultural sector, the rankings encourage governments to commoditise their land — and to sell or lease it to foreign investors, regardless of environmental or social impact. Smallholder farmers, pastoralists, and the indigenous peoples are casualties of this approach, as governments and foreign corporations work hand-in-hand to dispossess them of their land — and gain World Bank approval in the process," said the statement.

The campaign gives the example of Sierra Leone which is said to have taken 20% of its arable land from rural populations and leased it to foreign sugarcane and palm oil producers and the example of Liberia where palm oil corporations have secured long-term leases for 1.5 million acres of land formerly held by local communities.

According to the campaign, the new ranking system called "Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture (BBA)", with explicit goal to promote "the emergence of a stronger commercial agriculture sector", being done with funding from the Gates foundation would exacerbate the land grab. "Its rankings will prize deregulation of the agriculture sector and is expected to enable further land grabbing around the world," concluded the statement.