Small-scale farmers increasingly at risk from ‘global land grabbing’

kristy SRI/ESG News, Trendspotting

New research on the global rush for agricultural land shows that small-scale
farmers will increasingly lose out to major corporations as land deals ignore local tenure rights.

by Jun Borras, Ian Scoones, David Hughes

Fresh evidence from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the former Soviet Union was presented last week at an international conference on “global land grabbing” convened by the Land Deal Politics Initiative (including TNI) and hosted by the Future Agricultures Consortium at the Institute of Development Studies, where researchers revealed documentation of land deals amounting to over 80m hectares – almost twice what was previously estimated.

The stakes are high for displaced small farmers, women and children, as well as national governments where land is being leased in large amounts. With land deals accelerating, particularly in Africa, it is essential that the fine print of such deals is subject to careful scrutiny, and that transparent and accountable governance mechanisms are put in place. And securing land rights is central to ensuring equitable agricultural development.

The rush to acquire land is driven by four factors: food price volatility and unreliable markets; the energy crisis and interest in agro-energy/biofuels; the global financial crisis; and a new market for carbon trading. Proponents of these deals say they are competitive, that they economise on labour, and that they produce food for export at prices low enough for poor consumers. But, as research from Cambodia to Cameroon to Colombia shows, the social and environmental costs of such deals are rarely taken into account.

“Small-scale family agriculture, on which most of the world’s rural poor still depend, is threatened by large-scale plantations, export-led agriculture and the production not of food but commodities,” said Olivier de Schutter, the UN rapporteur on the right to food, in his opening speech at the conference.

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