Land grabs: Debunking the World Bank’s ‘bigger baddies’ argument

Last month Oxfam launched our land grabs action, targeting the World Bank. So far they’re not shifting their policy and agreeing to freeze their large land deals, so over the next few weeks we’re going to explore the reasons that they’re giving.

One reason that they put forward is that they’re not the right target on this issue, that they’re not really involved in the area of land. This is their “there are bigger baddies” argument.  Oxfam agrees that the World Bank isn’t the only – or even the worst – actor. However, considering the World Bank’s investment in agriculture has increased from $2.5 billion in 2002 to $6-8 billion in 2012, we don’t buy that none of that involves potentially problematic large-scale land acquisition.

In reality we know that there are very likely more than a few controversial cases relating to land. 21 cases involving land disputes have been brought by communities since 2008 (Oxfam is involved as a complainant in a number of them). And according to the Bank’s own statistics, the number of disputes relating to agribusiness have been growing in the past four years.

Given the Bank’s mandate for tackling poverty, even one land-grab case is a case too many. The World Bank should be helping to tackle the causes of hunger, not adding to the problems by being involved in deals that can result in communities being forced from the land that they rely on to grow the food they need.

So, while the World Bank may not the be worst culprit when it comes to land-grabbing, it is a crucial institution for setting the bar high in this critical area. In other words, we believe that if Oxfam can’t convince the World Bank to raise its standards, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to get other financing institutions to do so. If the Bank takes leadership, we hope we can use this example of the Bank being a force for good to leverage change in other institutions, from regional development banks to private investors.

After a fantastic launch of the campaign we think that there is still a big chance to influence the Bank and their new President Jim Kim. Despite their current public stance, the actions of thousands of people have really made them sit up and listen at their highest levels. When the World Bank asked on Twitter, “#whatwillittake to end poverty?” you deluged them with tweets and Facebook comments asking them to help stop land grabs.

This forced World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte to make time to join Oxfam in person for a debate during their annual meetings last month. And they’re making a point of coming out publicly through blogs and Twitter to defend their reasons why they’re not budging. This means we need to keep up the pressure and insist that they act now.

Take action

> Sign the petition to the president of the World Bank

Related links

> Land grabs Q&A

> Read the report: ‘Our Land, Our Lives’: Time out on the global land rush

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