It’s been called by some to be a new form of colonialism. Others say it is outright theft.
Since 2000, over 37 million hectares of land, mainly in the world’s poorest nations, have been acquired by foreign investors “without the free, prior, and informed consent of communities” in what, according to Oxfam and other organizations, constitutes a “land grab.” It’s a portion of land twice the size of Germany, according to researchers.
More than 60% of crops grown on land bought by foreign investors in developing countries are intended for export, instead of for feeding local communities. Worse still, two-thirds of these agricultural land deals are in countries with serious hunger problems. A report by the University of Virginia in collaboration with the Polytechnic University of Milan says that a third to a fourth (pdf, p. 1) of the global malnourished population, or 300 to 550 million people, could be fed from the global share of land grabs.
Instead, the land is used to grow profitable crops—like sugarcane, palm oil, and soy. The benefits of this food production “go to the investors and to the countries that are receiving the exports, and not to the benefit of local communities,” says Paolo D’Odorico, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia. He attributes the phenomenon to a global “commodification of land” and says the problem will only get worse in the coming years as food prices continue to rise globally.
Land grabs in the developing world create a system so unequal that resource-rich countries become resource dependent.
In Ethiopia, one of the world’s largest recipients of foreign aid, the problem is particularly acute. In a country where over 30% of the population (pdf) is below the food poverty line, crops are exported abroad—primarily to India, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.