Oxfam today launched a major new report, , to highlight the growing pace of large-scale land deals abroad, often brokered at the expense of poor communities that lose homes and livelihoods - sometimes violently - with no prior consultation, compensation or means of appeal.
Preliminary research indicates as much as 227 million hectares - about the size of Western Europe -may have been sold, leased or licensed in such deals since 2001. (1)
This new wave of land deals is not the new investment in agriculture that millions had been waiting for. Many of the deals in developing countries are in fact "land grabs" where the rights and needs of the people living on the land are ignored, leaving them homeless and unable to grow enough food or make a living.
Oxfam's research outlines a Ugandan case study where at least 22,500 people lost their homes and land to make way for a British timber company, the New Forests Company (NFC). Evictees told Oxfam they were forcibly removed and have been left without enough food or money.
Despite court orders restraining evictions by the company, eye-witnesses say company workers took part in some evictions anyway. NFC denies itsinvolvement in any evictions. (2)
"All our plantations were cut down - we lost the banana and cassava. We lost everything we had," said one of the Ugandan evictees, Christine*, a farmer in her mid 40s. "The company's casual labourers would attack us -they beat and threatened people. Even now they won't let us back in to look for the things we left behind. I was threatened - they told me they were going to beat me if we didn't leave."
The Uganda case clearly shows how land grabs are slipping through the net of existing safeguards. Investors, governments and international organisations must prioritise an end to land grabs by fixing current policies and regulations, which all too often fail to ensure local people are consulted or treated fairly, and by ensuring all relevant international standards are respected.
"Investment in agriculture should be good news but this land rush isreversing decades of hard-earned improvements to people's lives," said Stansfield. "We need urgent global action so that local communities with relatively little do not lose everything for the benefit of a few. It's time to secure a future where everyone has enough to eat."
* Names changed
1. This data is compiled by the Land Matrix Partnership, a coalition of academic, research and non-governmental organisations. The 227 million hectares figure is based on information on land deals over 200 hectares from a range of sources including government reports,academic research, company websites, media reports and the few contracts that are available. Lack of transparency makes it difficult to get exact figures, but to-date up to 1,100 of these deals - amounting to 67 million hectares - have been cross-checked and the coalition is continuing the cross-checking process. It is calling for increased transparency among companies and governments so that the true scale of the problem can be accurately understood.
The Land Matrix Partnership includes the International Land Coalition,the universities of Bern and Hamburg, the French research institute CIRAD, the German agency for technical cooperation, GIZ and Oxfam.
2. The evictions took place between 2006 and 2010. One High Court order was granted on August 24, 2009 and remained valid until March 18, 2010. The other was granted on June 19, 2009 and remained in force until October 2, 2009. Both orders were to restrain evictions by the company.
The New Forests Company stated the majority of local residents had no legal right to the land, they had left peacefully and that the process was the sole responsibility of the Ugandan National Forestry Authority.It told Oxfam it had brought jobs and amenities to local communities and its activities had been approved by the Forestry Stewardship Council and International Finance Corporation.
* This briefing first appeared on Celsias.