International investment in agriculture plays a vital role in development and poverty reduction. Investment can improve livelihoods and bring jobs, services, and infrastructure, when it is managed responsibly within the context of an effective regulatory framework.
The recent record of investment in land is very different. It tells a story of rapidly increasing pressure on land – a natural resource upon which the food security of millions of people living in poverty depends.
Without national and international measures to defend the rights of people living in poverty, this modern-day land-rush seems set to leave too many poor families worse off, often evicted from their land with little or no recourse to justice.
International agencies and organizations that are studying the lands acquisition problem state that in many cases it’s fairer to speak of land grab rather than land deal.
Land grabbing is the purchase or lease of vast areas of rural and agricultural land by foreign governments and multinational corporations as well as wealthy local individuals. The holdings for commercial or industrial agricultural production (food, fodder, agro-fuels, etc.) are destined to be exported to the country of the investor or to the international market. The use of the land is given in exchange of capital, promises of job creation or construction of certain infrastructure. The size of land (in most cases over 10,000ha) at the centre of the deals is disproportionate in comparison to the average land holding in the region. In many cases the local elites, domestic companies, or wealthy nationals living abroad, are acting as intermediaries: they buy land to be later sold to foreign investors or for direct exploitation. The fact that locals are acting as intermediaries makes the phenomenon more complex:[i] it allows investors and governments to ignore the people who have lived on the land for generations and who rely on it to survive. Affected communities are not being informed nor consulted, hence, consent is not given by the people living on the lands and who more often than not suddenly find themselves homeless and displaced without land to grow enough food to eat and to make a dignified living. This is why the phenomenon is today commonly referred to as ‘land grabs’.
[i] L. COTULA, S. VERMEULEN, R. LEONARD, J. KEELEY, Land grab or development opportunity? Agricultural investment and international land deals in Africa, London-Rome, 2009, pp. 23-25 ss.)