LAND GRABS AND FRAGILE FOOD SYSTEMS: THE ROLE OF GLOBALIZATION 3
IATP has worked on trade and agriculture or more than25 years. In all that time, we have consistently argued that trade agreements need to respect and promote human rights,not drive a process o globalization that privileges commer-cial interests and pushes public interests aside. This paperconcludes that the globalization enshrined in the ree tradeand investment agreements o the 1990s and 2000s have ledto yet another maniestation o commercial interests tram-pling human rights: land grabs.“Land grabs” is a term coined by the media to describe large-scale purchases or leases o agricultural or orest land onterms that do not serve those already living on the land. Thereis a large and growing body o literature—academic and morepopular—on land grabs. This paper is specically ocusedon two orces that we argue have contributed signicantlyto the problem: First, globalization—more specically, thederegulation o trade and oreign investment laws, which hasgreatly eased cross-border capital fows, relaxed the limitson oreign land ownership, and opened markets to agricul-tural imports. And second, the ailures o the internationaltrading system during the ood price crisis o 2007-08, whicheroded the condence o ood import–dependent countriesin international markets as a reliable source o ood and edboth speculative investment and investment in actual oodproduction.This loss o condence is compounded by climate change andthe resulting destabilization o weather patterns, which hasresulted in less predictable agricultural production. Between1995 and 2005, 90 percent o natural disasters were weatherrelated (foods and droughts as opposed to earthquakes andvolcanoes). Climate change is making domestic ood suppliesless certain and aecting major producers or export, too. TheUnited States lost 40 percent o a record large number o acresplanted with maize to drought in 2012.That loss o condence has driven some o the richer net-oodimporters—countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait—toinvest in growing ood abroad or import to their domesticmarkets. These countries are one o the groups heavily repre-sented among oreign land investors.The demand or ood rom richer countries coupled with thepotential to grow more ood elsewhere is not o itsel a badthing. Agriculture has been starved o investment or at least 20 years in developing countries, and increasing that invest-ment has already started to yield dividends in higher output.But land grabs, as the label implies, have to date been over-whelmingly negative. They are associated with weak insti-tutional capacity (and sometimes corruption) in the recipient country governments, as well as authoritarian governmentsin the investors’ home countries, making it hard to bringpressure there or better practices. The communities whoseland is leased or bought are not adequately protected.Four linked policy shits to create a more stable and trans-parent international ood system are needed: reormed traderules that ensure export measures are subject to transpar-ency and predictability requirements and that allow all coun-tries policy space or ood security policies; publicly-managedgrain reserves to dampen the eects o supply shocks; readilyaccessible unding or the poorest ood importers, whichwould be triggered automatically when prices increasesharply in international markets; and, the development o strong national and international laws to govern investment in land, respecting the principles and guidelines set out in theVoluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure. Tanzania’s recentlyannounced limits on how much land oreign and domesticinvestors can lease is a hopeul example o a national govern-ment taking the initiative to get serious about regulation.
1. Land grabs: Neo-colonialismor something more?
“The size o land afected by land acquisitionagreements signed between 2008 and 2009 was morethan ten times what it had been in previous annualaverages.” (Oxam, Sleeping Lions, p.8)
“Land grabs” is a term coined by the media to describelarge-scale purchases or leases o agricultural or orest landon terms that do not serve those already living on the land.Land grabs are maniest in a huge increase in oreign (anddomestic) investment in land, concentrated in some o theworld’s poorest—and hungriest—countries. Some o thedrivers behind land grabs predate the global ood price crisis,such as the rise o the biouel industry rom approximately2004. But the ood price crisis sent investments into over-drive. While the actual numbers are opaque and disputed(how many acres? how much money?), in part because somekinds o investment are over-counted while others are under-counted, no one argues that the scale o land investment ishuge and still growing.
1. See the story at http://allarica.com/stories/201212200011.html2. One o the most comprehensive sources o up-to-date numbers can be ound here, on-line at the Land Matrix portal.