This weeks blog is from Katrin Stiper. Katrin recently completed a 2 week long internship with us where she used her expertise in Environmental Resource Management to create content for our online platforms.
To take control of a country today, it is not necessary to go to war – you can just buy it! Whether in Latin America, Eastern Europe or Africa, more and more investors buy thousands of acres of fertile land in foreign countries – These days many investments are very risky, but never the acquisition of farmland.
What is land grabbing?
Land grabbing refers to the large-scale occupation of fertile arable land by outside investors. The investors are usually States, government-related institutions and trans-national corporations and this tenure will take place through purchase or a long-term lease.
What are the motivations for land grabbing?
Food security: Some countries are not able to supply their population with enough food, maybe because the quality of their soil is poor. By buying land in another country they gain independence – they are not dependent on imports and are independent of the fluctuating world market.
Compensation for loss of land due to climate change.
Countries that are only just above the sea are threatened by climate change and the resulting rise in sea levels – By buying up farmland in other countries they are trying to compensate for future loss of land.
Cheap large areas for the production of fuels from agricultural commodities.
Transnational companies often buy cheap large area of land in developing countries to grow their own biomass for energy purposes, for example for agrofuels.
Profit and speculation
Fertile farmland on earth is becoming increasingly rare. The global demand for food is increasing due to the increase in world population, food wastage in the Western world and the increase in average calories consumed per person in populous emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil. The rising demand for meat also makes a significant contribution to the scarcity of arable land. This makes fertile land an excellent investment for businesses.
Assurance of water rights
Large areas with extensive water rights allow the backup of food crops and energy crops cultivation in these areas, but at the expense of the surrounding farmland.
On the other side are the sellers and lessors. What reasons are there for someone to sell his land?
Land sale brings investment in infrastructure and jobs.
The World Bank emphasizes that land grabbing can also have benefits for the country selling or leasing, if it is done “right” and the people will share in the profits. The idea is that through the help of foreign investors, the productivity of agricultural land can be increased which will benefit the local population. Increased productivity through technology transfer is one of the frequently used key words of the advocates of the land sale.
Land funds for debt
Many African countries are heavily indebted and need to sell land in order to pay off debts and interest payments. In addition to the traditional export commodities of the land sale is a new revenue source that serves this purpose.
In terms of money, jobs and privileges.
How does land grabbing happen and what is the current situation?
In most countries where land grabbing is taking place, the most of the population are smallholders. That is, the small farmers of the region would not usually have more than two acres of land; they are self-sufficient and therefore have a secure livelihood for themselves and their families. The problem is that the ownership is not regulated by Western standards. Subsistence farmers and shepherdesses often have no formal land titles for the land, but manage it according to traditional use and ownership agreements. As a result, they lose it easily when governments or investors have chosen the country since the land is often not registered.
The effects are:
Threat to food security
Through the loss of farmland in some developing countries the food situation is destabilized, since most of the food grown there is then exported.
The incoming company often promises that they will bring new jobs however these rarely go to the local population and are often filled by personnel from the investor country. If local does get a job there often unfairly paid and with poor working conditions.
Increased water consumption by intensive farming, clearing of forest areas and the use of pesticides and fertilizers can have devastating effects. The animal and plant life suffer and often a decline in biodiversity is found.
Unfortunately a worldwide study on the extent of land grabbing is not available yet. Since many of the involved actors are not interested in potential bad publicity.
More information on this topic can be found here: