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New study links poverty to large-scale land deals

By Jude Njoku
One of the most comprehensive studies on large land acquisitions in developing countries, has warned of the harmful effects of such transactions on the poorest members of the society.

According to the study which was published on-line on December 14, by the International Land Coalition, ILC, large land deals are more likely to cause problems for the poorest members of society, who often lose access to land and resources that are essential to their livelihood.

More than 40 organisations collaborated on the Global Commercial Pressures on Land Research Project, which synthesised 28 case studies, thematic studies and regional overviews.

The report also includes the latest data from the ongoing Land Matrix project to monitor large-scale land transactions, and covers a full decade of land deals from 2000-2010. Those deals amount to more than 200 million hectares of land – or eight times the size of the United Kingdom.

The research revealed national elites play a much larger role in land acquisitions than has been noted to date by media reports that have focused on foreign investors.

Food, according to the study, is not the main focus of the land deals. Out of the 71 million hectares in deals that the authors could cross-reference, 22 percent was for mining, tourism, industry and forestry and three-quarters of the remaining 78 percent for agricultural production was for biofuels.

Although the researchers found that  large land deals can create opportunities, they noted that its harmful effects on the poor outweigh such benefits. The study’s  lead author, Ward Anseeuw  of the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development, CIRAD noted that “under current conditions, large-scale land deals threaten the rights and livelihoods of poor rural communities and especially women”.

According to the report, “The competition for land is becoming increasingly global and increasingly unequal. Weak governance, corruption and a lack of transparency in decision-making, which are key features of the typical environment in which large-scale land acquisitions take place, mean that the poor gain few benefits from these deals but pay high costs”.

This view was canvassed by  Dr Madiodio Niasse, Secretariat Director of the International Land Coalition, whose members include UN agencies, International Financial Institutions, research institutes, and civil society and farmers’ organisations.

Weak land rights are another problem. “As governments own the land it is easy for them to lease large areas to investors, but the benefits for local communities or national treasuries are often minimal,” the report stated.

The report recommends that governments and investors:

·         recognise and respect the customary land and resource rights of rural people.

·         put small holder production at the centre of strategies for agricultural development.

·         make international human rights law work for the poor.

·         make decision-making over land transparent, inclusive and accountable.

·         ensure environmental sustainability in decisions over land and water-based acquisitions and investments.

The report called for models of investment that do not involve large-scale land acquisitions, but rather work together with local land users, respecting their land rights and the ability of small-scale farmers themselves to play a key role in investing to meet the food and resource demands of the future.


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