Land grabs – a growing scandal

Ian Sullivan

Blog post by Ian Sullivan

Oxfam Great Britain, Online Campaigner
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Imagine waking up one day to be told you're about to be evicted from your home. Being told that you no longer have the right to remain on land that you've lived on for years. And then, if you refuse to leave, being forcibly removed by hired thugs.

Thankfully, this scary situation is one that most of us will never have to face. However, for many communities in developing countries, it's a scandal that's on the increase. It's what's known as a land grab – a land deal behind closed doors that often results in farmers being forced from their homes and families left hungry.

Since widespread food price rises in 2008, land grabs have been happening more and more. Demand for land has soared as investors look for places to grow food for export, grow crops for biofuels, or simply buy-up land for profit. But in many cases, land obtained as 'unused', ‘degraded’ or 'undeveloped' is actually being used by poor families to grow food. Between 2008 and 2009, the World Bank catalogued 174,000 square miles of land acquisitions in poor countries – an area the size of Sweden.

Families are often forcibly kicked off their land. Promises of compensation are often broken, never made, or deeply unfair. Even after the contract is signed, there is no guarantee a land deal will go ahead in accordance with it. A survey by the World Bank showed that in parts of East Africa, only 16 of 46 projects were working as intended (the rest lay fallow or had been rented back to smallholder farmers). In Mozambique only half the projects were working as planned.

It's not necessarily a problem when companies invest in land in poor countries for commercial use. But when families are being kicked off the land they depend on without being consulted or adequately compensated and less food is grown as a result, that's a very big problem indeed.

In recent months, Oxfam has been investigating how land grabs have already pushed thousands of people deeper into poverty. And in the next few weeks, we’ll be letting you know about our findings – and what you can do to help put an end to this scandal.

In the meantime, please watch our video – a parody based on Glengarry Glen Ross, the 1992 film where real-estate salesmen will do anything to succeed. Share it far and wide, and help us raise awareness of how land grabs are impacting people’s lives.