How does land grabbing affect food insecurity?

Lough Erne

Lough Erne

We live blogged the Oxfam and EnoughFoodIF debate about the effects of land grabbing on food insecurity. Speakers included DFID’s Director General for Global Policy, Michael Anderson, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter,  ActionAid Kenya’s Programme Manager, David Barissa and Oxfam’s CEO, Penny Lawrence.

IF has gained global traction since launching this year and is supported by Bill Nighy, David Harewood and Matt Dawson. It asks the government to use its G8 presidency to take action on land grabbing, agricultural aid and transparency.

Things kick off with the screening of a crowd-sourced Coldplay video, asking us to imagine if we had to move our lives somewhere else. Some great stills of people hoovering around the Eiffel Tower, shaving their legs on park benches, taking dumps in shopping centres and chatting with their dogs in pools.

Land ownership transparency

Penny Lawrence stepped up first, reminding us of Cameron‘s promise to push for land ownership transparency at Davos. Lawrence has met many affected by land grabs including Phillipino fishing families who are squatting on their own land and 1,300 Cambodians who were forcibly relocated to a swamp.

Lawrence explains, “Two thirds of foreign land investors export the produce they grow and we haven’t found one large scale investment that didn’t involve intimidation and violence.”

But small farming communities are willing. In Guatemala broccoli grown by small holders is fed into the supply chain, creating no need for land ownership.

Lawrence calls for policy change involving a land transparency initiative that implements the existing voluntary guidelines. The initiative would include a transparency and consultation stage that recognises communal and customary rights, giving communities a say in how their land is sold.

Untitled land raises transaction costs

Michael Anderson claims that everyday 6 pieces of land the size of London are snapped up by foreign investors in poor countries. Anderson also says 90% of African land isn’t titled, which raises transaction costs.

The Land Matrix and Land Observatory initiatives are trying to push this into the public eye but political reform won’t yield easily to technical solutions.

Redefining parameters

Olivier de Schutter doesn’t share the framing of this debate and argues for a discussion concerning the development of small scale farming communities.

“A global market for land and food is emerging and populations are competing for the same resources. Our thirst for renewable energy competes with the nutrition of local economies.”

De Schutter explains, “Developing countries don’t support small scale farms because they aren’t taxed or remunerated enough.”

But small scale farmers prevent city migrations, are better at preserving eco systems and contribute to food security by producing food for local populations. Large scale plantations purely benefit their owners whose investments don’t trickle to the local economy.

Multi-nationals lying about land use

David Barissa knew nothing about land grabs in 2008 but was personally affected by European policies introduced in 2009.

Multi-national land investment in Kenya forced 31,000 Kenyans to leave their homes with no offer of compensation or alternative land. Multinationals claim they are producing agricultural or horticultural crops but use the land for biofuels.

De Schutter decries the competition between large plantations and small farmers, resulting in decreased living wages and the selling of quality land.

Whats on your G8 wish list? 

David Barissa – “Stop subsidising companies that invest in bio fuels and develop more policy coherence. Some food security policies are sinking others deeper into poverty and hunger.”

Michael Anderson – “The G8 shouldn’t dictate the global agricultural agenda.”

Oliver de Schutter  – “The G8 should consider land acquisition alternatives by looking at agricultural opportunities for investment. Foreign investment in small farms should channel the development of that community rather than being basic land acquisition.”


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