The  land grab  trend has come under heavy  scrutiny  since mid-2008. On  the one hand, investment in agricultural land is thought to be an answer for boosting food production in a world plagued by food shortages; on the other hand, many claim that this large-scale, private-sector-led approach conflicts with the urgency of increasing domestic food supplies in the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries.

No matter how  convincing  the  claim  that  the global  land grab will bring much-needed agricultural  investment  to poor countries, evidence shows  there  is simply no  place  for  the  small  farmer  in  the  vast majority  of  these  land  grab  situations. Most land deals consider the local population only to the  extent  that  large-scale agriculture will create employment for subsistence farmers and rural land-dwellers. However, the extension of employment to local farmers to work on industrial, plantation-style  farms  effectively  implies  the  forcing of  subsistence  farmers off  their land  to make  room  for  large-scale  farms producing  food  for other countries. Not only does land grabbing mean that farmers will lose their land, but these lands will be transformed from smallholdings or communal lands into large industrial estates connected to far-off markets.

Another danger of the land grab movement is that commercial land deals are coming into direct conflict with land reform efforts in many developing countries. Conflict between rural land dwellers and commercial interests is not a new phenomenon. Mounting demand for land due to demographic and economic growth and resource depletion increasingly leads rural areas to be incorporated into market economies, and therefore governments often experience pressure to implement land reform new policies that give the poor secure access to land, thereby allowing them to pursue their livelihoods without fear of harassment or eviction. The task of achieving food security and the implementation of land reform policies   in developing countries are  in extricable  linked. There  are 1.5 billion  small-scale farmers in the world who live on less than 2 ha of land secure and equitable access  to  and  control  over  land  allows  these  farmers  to  produce  food, which  is vital for their own food security as well as that of rural populations throughout the developing world. The  current  land  grab—characterized  by  unprecedented  pressures  on  land  resources  and  increasing  demand within  land markets—is  placing new tensions on land tenure systems.

A dangerous element of  the  land grab  trend  is  the shift  from domestic  to  foreign control  over  food  resources  and  food-producing  lands.  Land  deals  diminish  the possibility of reaching food self-sufficiency for poor nations and some view  land concessions as governments out-sourcing food at  the expense of  their most food-insecure  citizens.  Importantly, most of  the  target  or  “host”  countries  themselves are net food importers or even emergency food aid recipients For instance, Madagascar  and  the Sudan  still  receive  food  aid  relief  from  the World Food Program; several months ago, Cambodia received US$ 35 million in food assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) (Haralambous et al. 2009). For nations experiencing social unrest and high rates of hunger and poverty, it is hard to conceive that fertile land is being conceded to foreign countries instead of being used to boost domestic production. Kenya  has  received  much  attention  as  the  Qatari  government  is  to  fund  a US$ 3.4 billion port off the coast of Kenya in exchange for a lease of 40,000 ha of land on which Qatar will grow crops (Montenegro 2009). According to land  law, this area belongs to the local community; however, pastoralists and farmers in the Tana delta are largely illiterate and unaware of their legal rights (Montenegro 2009). This deal seems unthinkable given that Kenya is currently in a state of “food emergency” according to  the FAO, which  reports Kenya as experiencing “exceptional shortfall in aggregate food production and supplied” (see Table 2.1). Recent drought has left 10 million people hungry and post-election violence in 2008 displaced thou-sands of farmers throughout the country’s most fertile regions; reportedly, 30% of Kenyans now face food shortage (Kilner 2009).

It is difficult to visualize a win-win scenario when governments do not prioritize domestic food supply or local production over foreign investment and production for export. Evidence shows that deals often  lack  transparency and are  subject  to mismanagement by governments. An extensive May 2009 report found that many countries do not have sufficient mechanisms to protect local rights and take account of local interests, livelihoods, and welfare (Vermeulen and Cotula 2009). Moreover, local communities are rarely adequately informed about land concessions made to private companies (e.g., Cotula et al. 2008). Insecure local land rights, inaccessible registration procedures, vaguely defined productive use  requirements,  legislative gaps, and other factors  too often undermine  the position of  local people. Without the careful assessment of  local contexts,  including recognizing existing  land uses and claims, securing land rights for rural communities, and involving local people in negotiations, land acquisitions will inevitably produce adverse affects for local food production and rural livelihoods.

The global food and financial crises have made land reform an even more urgent task, but land deals threaten such reforms. In the Philippines, for instance, a series of high-profile deals have clashed with long-running demands for agrarian reform, including  land  redistribution  (Qatar Land Deal 2009). Reportedly  the Philippines finally began to push a land reform bill, the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB), through  the House  in May 2009 (Padilla 2009), but  this development has foreign

investors worried. For instance, Saudi executives representing big agricultural businesses have raised concerns about the Philippine agrarian reform; reportedly, Saudi investors were planning to acquire thousands of hectares of land for planting, processing and raising livestock and poultry, and some also expressed the possibility of planting cassava and sugarcane (Cayon 2009).In the Philippines, implementing agrarian reform has the potential to stimulate domestic economic activity and help address the problem of massive job dislocation. Those directly and indirectly involved in agricultural production in the Philippines  comprise  around 70% of  the  labor  force,  and  their  combined production accounts  for  almost  75%  of  the  domestic  economy. However, in the  absence  of agrarian reform, a huge portion of the labor force is thus denied access to gainful, secure, and sustainable employment. As a consequence, nearly 70% of the poor live in the countryside, and around 90% of the rural population lives below the poverty line (Cayon 2009).

The discussion of land reform in relation to the land grab trend has received little media or scholarly  attention.  In many cases, land  reform  is  critical  to  achieving the rural development necessary for domestic food production.


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