The Great Land Rush: Land Grabs & Food Security

Crosslinked at Bertelsmann Stiftung – Future Challenges Organization

The Great Land Rush and Food Security

What is land?

Many of us don’t think about what land really means. An economist might define land as the totality  of natural resources in a given area, while a lawyer might focus on  land, water and mineral rights. But a farmer’s answer might be simpler: land is the farmer’s capital. Land is the soil and  water utilized in the production of crops for the local or global market. In the context of an increasingly globalized world, land rights are paramount, particularly in the Global South (Asia, South America, Africa and Australia). As governments and multinational corporations buy up land, small farmers and indigenous groups are edged out.

A Global Phenomenon

A 2010 World Bank study showed that 110 million acres (44,515,420.7 hectares) of farmland worldwide were sold or leased in the first eleven months of 2009 alone;  70 percent of these land deals were concentrated in Mali, Libya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Mozambique.

Before 2008, land was sold or leased at an average annual rate of  10 million acres (4,046,856.42 hectares). However, in the last four years alone, nearly 148 million acres (about 60 million hectares) of land on the continent of Africa has been acquired by international investors and government bodies. This surge in land grabbing and speculation deserves attention because it poses a grave threat to regional food security, indigenous land and water rights.

These land deals are not just confined to the continent of Africa (which holds nearly two-thirds of the world’s remaining arable land). In the Middle East,  Bahrain has seen political upheaval and protest in the wake of a major land deal within its borders. White South African farmers are buying up land in Georgia while in the Ukraine, the state is planning to buy up 30 percent of the nation’s land to bolster the country’s food security. In Australia, in a similar move a Chinese company has offered to buy 80,000 hectares of farmland.

In one of Asia‘s poorest nations, 15 percent of Cambodian land has been signed over to private companies (made easier by the Khmer Rouge’s  prohibition of private property and subsequent burning of all land titles). In South America, the Brazilian government has shown its openness to greater foreign investment in rural land. In today’s globalized world economy, these land deals have far-reaching effects.

Why the rush for land?

Factors driving the land grab include population pressure, the burgeoning middle class in the Global South and its heightened demand for foodstuffs, in concert with individual countries’ concerns over food security. As ready access to food is essential to a politically stable nation, food security can have major political effects.

This was seen in 2009 in Madagascar when a land deal with a South Korean conglomerate that would have handed over half of Madagascar‘s arable land was met with mass protests and led to the overthrow of then-President Ravalomanana. Continue reading

On Aid: Why Good Intentions Are Not Enough

[Cross-Linked w/ my other blog]

Let’s take the story of a giant, engorged on wealth and privilege. This giant trods upon the earth with greater might and size than his compatriots. He has had the advantages of being able to manipulate a global system that dictates who gets what- even down to potable water, fresh food and life-saving pharmaceuticals. Somewhere in the progression of history, this giant grew to prominence- likely after a world war that left his former rivals indebted to him. He turns his attention to the nations that his rivals colonized- namely those African, Asian and South/Central American nations many of us cannot name.

The giant’s steps invariably crush the voiceless, disempowered and disenfranchised as he drafts documents outlining what a human right is and how to measurepoverty in terms of numbers and indicators. The problem is- those numbers and indicators fail to take into account the most basic of human needs- access to potable water, access to and ability to produce food, access to vital knowledge. Additionally, the assumed universal of “modernization”– a teleological progression from hunter/gatherer to subsistence farmer to an industrial/urbanized society is adopted as a model of “progress.”

So the well-intentioned giant takes it a step further. He introduces Structural Adjustment Plans that require the liberalization, privatization of state-owned enterprises, demonization of labor unions and de-regulation of the “lesser” nations’ governments and economies. He normalizes debt, reduces tariffs, disincentivizes government provision of public goods and undermines the building of taxation structures- in the name of neoliberalism. Meanwhile, multinational corporations threaten the biodiversity of African and Asian ecosystems through intellectual property rights and patents. Claiming plants with medicinal properties and seizing the land on which they grow, these corporations displace the inhabitants of the land, forcing them to move to cities that are urbanizating too quickly to develop the infrastructure that would support the burgeoning urban populations.

In the wake of the destabilizing effects of these myriad policies Continue reading

Human Trafficking News Roundup: 19 December 2010

Let’s start off with a fact:

1 in 6 children in the world under the age of 14 are child laborers. That’s over 150 million children.

Tough anti-trafficking law in the offing: Draft suggests speedy trial tribunal, considering the offences non-bailable


Human trafficking and related crimes will be considered non-bailable and non-compoundable offence and tried in the speedy trial tribunals to be set up in all districts and metropolitan cities, says a draft anti-trafficking law.

The persons convicted of the crimes would be punished with a minimum of eight years rigorous imprisonment plus fines and a maximum of life sentence.

The proposed Human Trafficking (Prevention and Protection) Act-2011 also provides for setting up National Human Trafficking Prevention Authority (NHTPA) to pursue human trafficking cases and take measures to combat the crime.

The tribunals will take into cognisance the cases against government officials even if the complainants have not taken the government approval to file those, says the draft.

The Daily Star has obtained a copy of the draft, which defines human trafficking as sale or transfer of men and women by force, threats or cheating for sexual and commercial purposes or other forms of exploitation in or outside the country.

Using men and women for commercial purposes through fake marriages and household servitude will also be considered human trafficking.

For the first time, the government has defined labour trafficking in the draft law. It says transferring people by illegal force or deception in the name of jobs will fall into labour trafficking. Someone may not be subjected to servitude, bonded labour or debt bondage, but that will not lessen the gravity of his trafficker’s crime, the draft says.

A projector plays over the face of a Gambian boy at an event designed to raise awareness of child sex abuse in the country

Breaking the silence of Gambia’s sex tourism: The tiny West African state has become a magnet for Western predators looking to abuse children.

On a hot Wednesday evening local children gather by a mango tree in the sandy backstreets of Bijilo, close by Gambia’s main tourist drag on the West African country’s Atlantic coast. A generator thumps a little way off to power a projector and on a fabric screen a film plays in which a young girl is groomed by an older man with a gift of a mobile phone. Later she is raped. Continue reading

Human Trafficking (Slavery) News Roundup: November 16, 2010

The Examiner: Global Human Trafficking Roundup (November 16, 2010)


Finland: A Somali born Swedish national was sentenced 60 days in jail for attempting to smuggle foreign women. He attempted to bring young Somali women from Stockholm to Turku. While woman testified that she paid smuggling fee to the man to come to Finland and traveled without identification,  the man claimed that he met her by chance at the airport.

Romania: Increasing number of Romanian women are working as prostitutes in Finland. Romania is one of the biggest hub of human trafficking in Europe, according to the report. One advocate in Finland says that as the number of women who are in sex slavery is increasing, the average of their age is becoming younger.


Philippines: Immigration officers caught six Indian nationals who were heading to Malaysia. During the interrogation, they admitted that the human trafficking ring based in India facilitated their trip to Malaysia. The Immigration authority said that none of the Indians possessed proper documents. The Indians also will be deported immediately.

Cambodia: A journalist investigates Cambodia’s child prostitution with a British police.  When they walked into the bar and asked for younger girls, the madam brought three or four girls in the age between 12 and 13. And when they asked for children that are even younger, the madam said that she could arranged something with 6 or 7 year old off the premise. Continue reading