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  • Land grabbing
  • “Land grabbing” is a term referring to the contentious issue of large-scale land acquisitions: buying or long-term leasing large pieces of land in developing countries, by domestic and transnational companies, governments and individuals following the 2007–08 world food price crisis (Borras et al., 2011).

    The term is controversial, being described as “activist terminology.” Some stress that the catch-all term may obscure the diverse manifestations of commercial land deals that involve a wide range of processes and legalities, and deflect from the role played by governments and domestic elites (Hall, 2011).

    However, the issue is now being contested in the context of international legal norms. The preliminary study of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee on the advancement of the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas (A/HRC/16/63, 18 February 2011) contains a section on “Expropriation of land, forced evictions and displacement.” They describe the phenomenon of the global “land-grab” as governments and companies seek to buy and lease large tracts of productive land in other countries, for food to be exported back to their countries, or to grow biofuels to fill the petrol tanks of consumers in the global North. This process has the potential to involve an unprecedented amount of land expropriation, forced evictions and displacements, and thus become a subject of states’ obligations to respect, protect and fulfill related human rights.

    The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), its members and partners recently finalized the intergovernmental negotiations on the Voluntary Guidelines on Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the context of National Food Security, which seeks to mitigate the negative consequences of this trend. (See Land Times No. 2.)

    The same phenomenon has been witnessed in many other countries; today, an estimated number of 180 land deals exist at varying stages of negotiation. Concerning the MENA region, the United Arab Emirates are buying 400,000 hectares in the Sudan, and a group of Saudi investors is spending $100 million to acquire lands under a government lease in Ethiopia to grow wheat, barley and rice. Such practices, which only existed at a comparable level during the colonial era, will further increase the vulnerability of, and discrimination against local peasants. The term “land grab” connotes all of these potential processes and consequences.


    “Outsourcing-s third wave. Rich food importers are acquiring vast tracts of poor countries’ farmland. Is this beneficial foreign investment or neocolonialism?” The Economist )21 May 2009, at: from www.economist.com/node/13692889

    Ruth Hall, Land grabbing in Southern Africa: the many faces of the investor rush, Review of African Political Economy Vol. 38, No. 128 (June 2011)193–214.

    Saturnino M.Borras Jr., Ruth Hall, Ian Scoones, Ben White and Wendy Wolford (24). Towards a better understanding of global land grabbing: an editorial introduction, Journal of Peasant Studies Vol. 38, Issue 2 (March 2011), 209–16.

    Land Times

    HLRN Publications

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