Sunday, November 22, 2009

Stop the global land grab! - Grain organization

Rome, 16 November 2009

For over a year a half now, we have been watching carefully how investors are trying to take control of farmland in Asia, Africa and Latin America as a response to the food and financial crises. In the beginning, during the early months of 2008, they talked about getting these lands for “food security”, their food security. Gulf State officials began flying around the globe looking for large areas of cultivable land that they could acquire to grow rice to feed their burgeoning populations without relying on international trade. So too were Koreans, Libyans, Egyptians and others. In most of these talks, high-level government representatives were directly involved, peddling new packages of political, economic and financial cooperation with agricultural land transactions smack in the centre.

But then, towards July 2008, the financial crisis grew deeper, and we noticed that alongside the “food security land grabbers” there was a whole other group of investors trying to get hold of farmland in the South: hedge funds, private equity groups, investment banks and the like. They were not concerned about food security. They figured that there is money to be made in farming because the world population is growing, food prices are bound to stay high over time, and farmland can be had for cheap. With a little bit of technology and management skills thrown into these farm acquisitions, they get portfolio diversification, a hedge against inflation and guaranteed returns -- both from the harvests and the land itself.

To date, more than 40 million hectares have changed hands or are under negotiation -- 20 million of which in Africa alone. And we calculate that over $100 billion have been put on the table to make it happen. Despite the governmental grease here or there, these deals are mainly signed and carried out by private corporations, in collusion with host country officials. GRAIN has compiled various sample data sets of who the land grabbers are and what the deals cover, but most of the information is kept secret from the public, for fear of political backlash.

Nothing in this race for farmlands in the South is in the interest of local communities, whether you're talking about Pakistan, Cambodia, the Philippines, Madagascar, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia or Mali. Many of these countries are tremendously food insecure themselves. And these land grabs are designed to do away with small scale farming, not to improve it. If only for that reason alone, this new global land grab has been quickly seen by social movements as a recipe for profound conflict -- over not only land, but water as well.

Today in Rome, we have a microcosm of this conflict. Over at the FAO, governments, international agencies (like the World Bank) and private companies (like Yara, Bunge and Dreyfus) are trying to work out what they call codes of conduct or voluntary guidelines to make these deals “win-win”. Their main concern is the money. They don't want the dollars and the dirhams being put on the table for farmland acquisitions to run away. So they have constructed an opportunistic response: to make these land deals “work” by managing the risks involved. And we know why. After 50 years of agricultural modernisation schemes like the Green Revolution and biotechnology, and the last 30 years of broader structural adjustment programmes, we have more hungry people on the planet than ever. It's plain knowledge that all these programmes to supposedly feed the world have backfired. Unfortunately, the World Bank and others have now decided that the best option is to fly forward, follow the money and install large scale agribusiness operations everywhere, particularly where they have not taken root yet, in order to fix the problem. That is the essence of the land grab paradigm: to expand and entrench the Western model of large scale commodity value chains. In other words: more corporate-controlled food production for export.

Social movements see things quite differently. For us, all this talk of “win-win” is simply not realistic. It promises transparency and good governance as if foreign investors would respect communities rights to land there when the local governments don't. It speaks of jobs and technology transfer when those are not the problem (not to mention that little of either may materialise). It is shrouded in words like “voluntary”, “fear” and “could” instead of “guaranteed”, “confidence” and “will”. And the win-win camp is itself divided about what should happen in case of food pressures in the host countries, a more than likely scenario. Should countries be allowed to restrict exports, even from foreign investors' farms? Or should so-called free trade and investors' rights take precedence? No one that we have talked to among concerned groups in Africa or Asia takes this “win-win” idea seriously.

Today's global farmland grab, where foreign investors take control of land and water in developing countries, has nothing to do with strengthening family farming and local markets, which in our view is the only way forward to achieve food systems that actually feed people. It must be stopped. There is no win-win possible because those pushing these investments are asking the wrong question. The question we should be asking is not “How do we make these investments work?” It is “What farming and food systems will feed people without making them sick, keep farmers on the farm instead of the city slums, and allow communities to prosper and thrive?” Once we agree that the real question is what agriculture we want, then we can talk about what investment will get us there.

At GRAIN, we are extremely concerned that today's global land grab is only going to make the food crisis worse. For it pushes an agriculture geared toward large scale monocultures, GMOs, throwing farmers off the land in favour of machines, and lots of chemicals and fossil fuels. This is not an agriculture that will feed everyone. It's an agriculture that feeds speculative profits for a few and more poverty for the rest. Of course we need investment. But investment in food sovereignty, in a million local markets and in the four billion rural people who currently produce most of the food that our societies rely on -- not in a few mega-farms controlled by a few mega-landlords.

Going further

http://farmlandgrab.org

http://www.grain.org/landgrab/

People's Food Sovereignty Forum, Rome 13-17 novembre 2009 - video




Stop the global land grab!

GRAIN statement at the joint GRAIN-La Via Campesina media briefing

Rome, 16 November 2009

(see also GRAIN and Via Campesina's invitation to a press conference)

For over a year a half now, we have been watching carefully how investors are trying to take control of farmland in Asia, Africa and Latin America as a response to the food and financial crises. In the beginning, during the early months of 2008, they talked about getting these lands for “food security”, their food security. Gulf State officials began flying around the globe looking for large areas of cultivable land that they could acquire to grow rice to feed their burgeoning populations without relying on international trade. So too were Koreans, Libyans, Egyptians and others. In most of these talks, high-level government representatives were directly involved, peddling new packages of political, economic and financial cooperation with agricultural land transactions smack in the centre.

But then, towards July 2008, the financial crisis grew deeper, and we noticed that alongside the “food security land grabbers” there was a whole other group of investors trying to get hold of farmland in the South: hedge funds, private equity groups, investment banks and the like. They were not concerned about food security. They figured that there is money to be made in farming because the world population is growing, food prices are bound to stay high over time, and farmland can be had for cheap. With a little bit of technology and management skills thrown into these farm acquisitions, they get portfolio diversification, a hedge against inflation and guaranteed returns -- both from the harvests and the land itself.

To date, more than 40 million hectares have changed hands or are under negotiation -- 20 million of which in Africa alone. And we calculate that over $100 billion have been put on the table to make it happen. Despite the governmental grease here or there, these deals are mainly signed and carried out by private corporations, in collusion with host country officials. GRAIN has compiled various sample data sets of who the land grabbers are and what the deals cover, but most of the information is kept secret from the public, for fear of political backlash.

Nothing in this race for farmlands in the South is in the interest of local communities, whether you're talking about Pakistan, Cambodia, the Philippines, Madagascar, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia or Mali. Many of these countries are tremendously food insecure themselves. And these land grabs are designed to do away with small scale farming, not to improve it. If only for that reason alone, this new global land grab has been quickly seen by social movements as a recipe for profound conflict -- over not only land, but water as well.

Today in Rome, we have a microcosm of this conflict. Over at the FAO, governments, international agencies (like the World Bank) and private companies (like Yara, Bunge and Dreyfus) are trying to work out what they call codes of conduct or voluntary guidelines to make these deals “win-win”. Their main concern is the money. They don't want the dollars and the dirhams being put on the table for farmland acquisitions to run away. So they have constructed an opportunistic response: to make these land deals “work” by managing the risks involved. And we know why. After 50 years of agricultural modernisation schemes like the Green Revolution and biotechnology, and the last 30 years of broader structural adjustment programmes, we have more hungry people on the planet than ever. It's plain knowledge that all these programmes to supposedly feed the world have backfired. Unfortunately, the World Bank and others have now decided that the best option is to fly forward, follow the money and install large scale agribusiness operations everywhere, particularly where they have not taken root yet, in order to fix the problem. That is the essence of the land grab paradigm: to expand and entrench the Western model of large scale commodity value chains. In other words: more corporate-controlled food production for export.

Social movements see things quite differently. For us, all this talk of “win-win” is simply not realistic. It promises transparency and good governance as if foreign investors would respect communities rights to land there when the local governments don't. It speaks of jobs and technology transfer when those are not the problem (not to mention that little of either may materialise). It is shrouded in words like “voluntary”, “fear” and “could” instead of “guaranteed”, “confidence” and “will”. And the win-win camp is itself divided about what should happen in case of food pressures in the host countries, a more than likely scenario. Should countries be allowed to restrict exports, even from foreign investors' farms? Or should so-called free trade and investors' rights take precedence? No one that we have talked to among concerned groups in Africa or Asia takes this “win-win” idea seriously.

Today's global farmland grab, where foreign investors take control of land and water in developing countries, has nothing to do with strengthening family farming and local markets, which in our view is the only way forward to achieve food systems that actually feed people. It must be stopped. There is no win-win possible because those pushing these investments are asking the wrong question. The question we should be asking is not “How do we make these investments work?” It is “What farming and food systems will feed people without making them sick, keep farmers on the farm instead of the city slums, and allow communities to prosper and thrive?” Once we agree that the real question is what agriculture we want, then we can talk about what investment will get us there.

At GRAIN, we are extremely concerned that today's global land grab is only going to make the food crisis worse. For it pushes an agriculture geared toward large scale monocultures, GMOs, throwing farmers off the land in favour of machines, and lots of chemicals and fossil fuels. This is not an agriculture that will feed everyone. It's an agriculture that feeds speculative profits for a few and more poverty for the rest. Of course we need investment. But investment in food sovereignty, in a million local markets and in the four billion rural people who currently produce most of the food that our societies rely on -- not in a few mega-farms controlled by a few mega-landlords.


Going further

http://farmlandgrab.org

http://www.grain.org/landgrab/

People's Food Sovereignty Forum, Rome 13-17 novembre 2009 - video

Declaration from Social Movements/NGOs/CSOs Parallel Forum to the World Food Summit on Food Security Rome, November 13-17, 2009

http://peoplesforum2009.foodsovereignty.org/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/faonews/sets/72157622802268128/

http://www.fao.org/wsfs/world-summit/en/