UNITED NATIONS, Apr 11, 2012 (IPS) - About 35 million hectares of land in 66 countries are subject to land grabs. This data published by NGO Grain of Spain refers to land grabs for food crops, but does not include most crops which are used for the production of biofuels such as jatropha.
Adding these plants to the account, there is a stunning 4.5 per cent of global cultivated land subject to the acquisition by foreign investors, Professor A. Haroon Akram-Lodhi of Trent University said Wednesday in a forum organized by the NGO Working Group on Food and Hunger at the United Nations. This would more than double the number published by Grain to 72 million hectares of land, using the definition of arable land by the Food and Agriculture Organization.
What is land grabbing? It is, according to Akram-Lodhi, the large-scale acquisition of land, whereas large-scale is referring to at least 200 hectares per deal. The acquisition is taking place by foreign investors mostly in Africa, but also in Latin America, Asia, the former Soviet Union – and some parts of the United States. The crops that are cultivated on this land are primarily meant for export and mostly bring favorable returns on the investment.
"Land grabbing is not new," Akram-Lodhi said on Wednesday in an event titled 'The Land Grabbing Disaster and the Global Food System'. "Colonization was a massive land grab," he pointed out. Nevertheless, after decades of independence of most of the former colonies, the land grabbing has reached a new scale, mostly by way of two drivers: food and agriculture on the one hand, and biofuel production on the other.
There are three types of companies pushing the acquisition of land: Agribusiness is investing in food crops and wants to produce as many as possible with the lowest possible input. Industry wants practically the same but is investing mainly in biofuels such as jatropha and palm oil. Last not least there is the finance sector, which also invests in crops and land, but its main interest is food scarcity, as that is with which speculators can make the most profits.
"We are heading towards a corporate food regime," Akram- Lodhi said. The world's agricultural system is changing from one in which land is owned by farmers or by communities and primarily cultivated by farmers to a system in which transnational corporations have the sole say in what gets cultivated where and who will profit. "Under this system you have to have cash to be able to get food."
Yet, Akram-Lodhi stressed, research on this field is scarce and has to be extended as a basis for better policy solutions. He also called on the present representatives of NGOs and on food activists to uphold their work on this field and to raise public awareness on the matter.
Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the parties to the U.N. General Assembly to curb the volatility of global food prices. "Food and nutritional security are the foundations of a decent life," Ban said in his message to the General Assembly's High-Level Thematic Debate on Excessive Price Volatility in Food and Related Commodity Markets on Wednesday. Therefore, he stressed, speculation on food crops must be discouraged and oversight and analysis of international commodities futures markets strengthened.
Ban said that the rise in food prices in the last years had caused the number of hungry people worldwide to swell to over one billion. Millions of households thus have been pushed below the poverty line, he added.