More than 200 million hectares of land in poor nations was sold by governments in land-grabbing deals with industry and investors between 2000 and 2010, a new study reports.
This high global demand for land is likely to continue for the long term, concludes the study by the International Land Coalition, an alliance of civil society and intergovernmental organisations, published today. (See Nature’s previous coverage of land grabs here.)
While the most publicised deals have focused on international transactions for food and biofuel production, the study – the most comprehensive to date – says rich national investors play a much larger role in land acquisitions than previous recognised.
Some 78% of land deals are for agricultural production, of which three quarters are for biofuels. But other significant activities include mining, tourisms and forest conversions, which make up the remaining 22%, finds the Global Commercial Pressures on Land Research Project study.
Africa is the prime target for land acquisitions, accounting for 134 million hectares of reported deals. In second place is Asia with 29 million hectares.
The best land which is irrigable and close to infrastructure such as roads is often targeted for trade, making conflict with existing land users more likely, the study says.
And while large land deals can create employment and economic opportunities, poor locals often reap few of the benefits because of poor governance, including the weak protection of the resource and land rights, and corrupt and unaccountable decision-making.
“The competition for land is becoming increasingly global and increasingly unequal,” says Madiodio Niasse, secretariat director of the ILC.
Lorenzo Cotula, a sustainable development researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London and co-author of the study, says, “As governments own the land it is easy for them to lease large areas to investors, but the benefits for local communities or national treasuries are often minimal”.
“This highlights the need for poor communities to have stronger rights over the land they have lived on for generations,” adds Cotula.
The report recommends that governments and investors better respect the rights of local people in land deals, and put greater emphasis on food production from smallholder farmers in strategies for agricultural development.