Emma Thwaite: Join Oxfam’s fight against land grabs
One of Oxfam’s campaigns over the last year has been focusing on the “global land rush”, issues arising from land acquisitions in developing countries. Rising food prices and a demand for new fuels (such as biofuels) have sparked a huge rush of big land grabs. So much so, that every second, poor countries lose an area of land the size of a soccer field to banks and private investors!
Oxfam is raising awareness of the issue, and last year, we told three of the biggest companies in the sugar industry to make sure their sugar doesn’t lead to land grabs. And it’s working: Coca-Cola has announced it will be the first of the ‘Big 3’ to agree to do more to respect communities’ land rights throughout their supply chain.
What is a “land grab”?
Land acquisitions become land grabs when they violate human rights, fail to consult affected people, don’t get proper consent, and happen in secret.
What’s the problem?
Land grabs mean that local rural communities lose out. Sometimes they are already using the land—they might be living there, gathering firewood, or farming on the land. However, those communities may not have strong formal legal rights over the land. When the land is acquired by an investor, these communities lose their right to the land, sometimes in a violent manner. In many cases, the land use is then changed from agricultural uses for food production to large-scale farming for biofuel or sugar, for example. This can have serious effects on food security for the local population.
Who is involved, and who is affected?
Land grabs are happening in many developing countries, from Guatemala and Indonesia to Liberia and Sudan. The investors can be banks, government, food exporters, tourism providers, and speculators.
As well as poorer rural communities as a whole, this problem affects women in particular. This causes further problems down the line, as research shows that women are more likely than men to spend the money they have on education, health care, and food for their children. Therefore, ensuring women have a steady income, and access to land and natural resources, in turn helps the next generation to break the poverty cycle.
Isn’t foreign investment part of development?
In the right way, foreign investment is an important part of fighting poverty. However, the way that land deals are being carried out, and the speed at which they are taking place, leaves poor people at risk of the injustice of land grabbing.
Big land deals are happening so quickly and on such a large scale that poor people are more vulnerable to the injustice of land grabbing than ever before.
Why is there such a high demand for land?
High food prices and a demand for new fuels have both played a part. And a rising population makes land seem like a pretty safe bet for savvy investors.
But if investors use the land to grow food, won't it work out OK in the end?
Most investors intend to export the food they grow back to rich countries. Others will use it to meet huge biofuel targets for the developed world. They're making the hunger problem much worse.
What is Oxfam doing about it?
Oxfam launched the GROW campaign to tackle the injustice of 900 million people going to bed hungry every night. The campaign now works in more than 50 countries around the world and at the international level.
Last year, an Oxfam investigation found that, in countries like Brazil and Cambodia, companies supplying sugar to Coke, Pepsi and other food and beverage giants had been linked to land grabs and conflicts affecting poor communities.
We demanded action from these companies to make sure their sugar doesn’t lead to land grabs—and we’ve had some great successes so far. Coca-Cola has committed to take steps to stop land grabs from happening in its supply chain after more than 225,000 people signed petitions and took action as part of Oxfam’s campaign to urge food and beverage companies to respect community land rights.
The company committed its bottlers to do the same. Coca-Cola also said it will do sweeping social and environmental assessments across its supply chains beginning with Colombia, Guatemala and Brazil, then moving on to India, South Africa and other countries, and that it will publicly reveal its biggest sugarcane suppliers.
PepsiCo and Associated British Foods (ABF), the two other targets of Oxfam’s campaign, have yet to address the issues highlighted by Oxfam’s report, Nothing Sweet About It.
What can I do about it?
Getting to grips with land grabs is possible. But for it to happen, effective global action is necessary.
You can act as a conscious consumer, and think about the products you buy, and the companies you support. The way you shop can be your way of telling companies what you think of their actions. You can check out Oxfam’s campaign Behind the Brands to see more about where your favourite foods come from, and at what cost to those in developing countries—and ask Coco-Cola, Pepsi, and Associated British Foods to help stop the land grabs.