Oxfam is urging the World Bank to freeze its land investments in developing countries and send a clear signal to investors around the world that land grabs must be stopped.
“Too often, land deals involve mass evictions of poor families, sometimes violently, without consultation or compensation. Land sold as ‘unused’ or ‘underdeveloped’ is frequently being used by women to grow food, raise livestock and collect water and firewood for their families,” says Lauren Ravon, Oxfam Canada policy advisor.
“Most investments in agricultural land by foreign investors between 2000 and 2010 were in developing countries with serious hunger problems,” Ravon adds. Most of those investors plan to export everything they produce on the land. Nearly 60 percent of land deals in that decade have been to grow crops to produce biofuels rather than food.
Oxfam Canada and Oxfam Québec are urging Canada’s representative to the World Bank—
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty—to encourage the World Bank to become a global champion to end land grabs. Minister Flaherty can exercise his influence at the World Bank starting at its upcoming annual meeting in Tokyo October 12-14.
Complaints of Rights Violations
The World Bank’s own research reveals that countries with the most large scale land deals are those with the poorest protection of people’s land rights. In the last four years, 21 formal complaints have been brought by communities affected by World Bank land projects that they say have violated their rights.
“Land is being scooped up at a feverish pace and poor people around the world are suffering as they lose their land, their livelihoods and in some cases, their lives,” says Ravon. “The job of the World Bank is to end poverty and promote sustainable development. It’s urgent to halt the land rush and set in place rules that ensure the rights and interests of communities are respected.”
Our Land, Our Lives
notes for example that in Honduras, over 60 people have been killed in a land conflict in the Aguan Valley, and the conflict shows no sign of stopping. In Liberia, 30 per cent of the country has been swallowed up by land deals in just five years. In just ten years, land deals by foreign investors in developing countries are estimated at 106 million hectares – almost the size of Ontario.
Oxfam is calling on the World Bank to commit to a six-month freeze on all land-related investments in developing countries. Putting a stop to its investments in the short term gives the World Bank time to put its own house in order and sends a strong signal to global investors.
The World Bank provides direct financial support for investments in land, acts as a policy advisor to developing country governments and is an international standard-setter for the global investment community.
Investments must be transparent
Specifically, Oxfam recommends that during a land investment freeze the World Bank work with developing countries to instate more robust policies to stop land-grabs and help set higher standards for all investors on:
- Transparency—ensuring that information about land deals is publicly accessible for both affected communities and local governments.
- Consultation and consent—ensuring communities are informed in advance, and can agree or refuse projects.
- Land rights and governance—strengthening poor people’s rights to land and natural resources, especially women, through better land tenure governance as set out by the Committee on World Food Security.
- Food security—ensuring that land investments do not undermine local and national food security.
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