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A billion hungry people victim of land grabs

The World Bank is one now of the world’s leading land grabbers, channeling aid and loans into projects which force people off land they have used for generations. One of the results is a dramatic rise in food prices and global hunger.

Since 2008, when the World Bank put a modest monitoring and a complaints procedure in place, communities saying investments have violated their land rights have brought 21 formal complaints. Internal monitoring found that people were forced off their land in 30% of the projects the World Bank funds – that’s around one million people in total.

The World Bank’s investments in agriculture have tripled in the last decade from $2.5bn in 2002 to $6–8bn in 2012. But this investment is not aimed at easing hunger or poverty.

Rather it is simply bankrolling governments to get involved in the global market in land. Private investors and governments dedicated to carving out a toehold for their own elite in the world capitalist market are the beneficiaries.

A case in point is Cambodia, where mass removals of people from their land have brought protests, and ruthless government repression, including assassinations of campaigners and journalists.

This week 71-year-old broadcaster Mam Sonando was jailed for 20 years because his Beehive Radio supported land rights. The trumped-up charge was one of “inciting rebellion”. Security forces stormed a village in May after local people resisted the sale of land to a corporation.

“Not a shred of evidence has been submitted in court that proves any connection between Mam Sonando and these bogus charges,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, calling the verdict “embarrassingly unsophisticated and brazen.”

Reluctantly, the World Bank has frozen loans to Cambodia, after the government refused to say how it would meet the needs of displaced people (not that people shouldn’t, in principle, be displaced you understand – the World Bank accepts that kind of “collateral damage” if some gesture is made at resettlement).

So now the Cambodian government says it will halt land deals for the time being – but as 63% of all available land in Cambodia has already been passed on to private companies, there can’t be much left to deal.

A report published by Oxfam into investment in agricultural land by foreign interests found that between 2000 and 2010, 60% was invested in developing countries with serious hunger problems. Two-thirds of those investors plan to export everything they produce.

“In the past decade an area of land eight times the size of the UK has been sold off globally as land sales rapidly accelerate. This land could feed a billion people, equivalent to the number of people who go to bed hungry each night. In poor countries, foreign investors have been buying an area of land the size of London every six days,” the report says.

Oxfam estimates that 60% of land deals in the past decade are either being used to produce bio-fuels or left idle as investors wait for the price to rise. This land could have fed one billion people. To complete the vicious circle, those countries where the land grab has been most extensive, are also those suffering the biggest food price hikes.

Sub-Saharan Africa has had the highest increase in maize prices – for example 113% in Mozambique, and 47% in Malawi. These reflect poor local harvests, rises in world prices, combined with general inflation. The wheat price rose 27% in South Africa, 15% in Sudan, and 14% in India. These are higher price increases than in the major producer countries where drought has reduced this year’s crop.

And just to underline the market-driven nature of the food crisis, there have been big increases in the price of rice, in spite of this year’s plentiful harvest. The internationalisation of rice exports raises prices in local, more traditionally rice-dependent and producer countries. In India and Pakistan for example, rice prices are 30% higher than a year ago.

Land grabbing, aided by the World Bank, is about making profit while large parts of humanity go hungry. Capitalism is truly an obscene system.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
11 October 2012

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