By Sisters Aine O’Connor and Rita Parks, Mercy Global Action at the U.N.
“The land belongs to me, and you are only strangers and guests.” (Leviticus 25:23)
Why, then, are vast stretches of land and ecosystems off limits for current and future use by peasants, indigenous peoples, fisherfolk and nomads – jeopardizing their rights to food and livelihood?
How is it that these same people are denied or severely limited in their access to water because international corporations, absentee landlords, or rich landowners can capture whatever water resources exist on, below, and around these lands?
They are the victims of land grabbing, “the foreclosure of vast stretches of land and ecosystems from current and future use by peasants, indigenous peoples, fisherfolk and nomads, thus seriously jeopardizing their rights to food and livelihood security,” according to a collective statement against responsible agriculture investment. Land grabbing captures whatever water resources exist on, below and around these lands. Land grabbing enables land to be sold, leased or licensed to [national and] foreign investors in secretive deals, often by legitimate governments.
State and private investors, from Citadel Capital to Goldman Sachs, are leasing or buying up tens of millions of hectares of farmlands in Asia, Africa and Latin America for food and fuel production, according to La Via Campesina, an international peasant movement.
One way or the other, agricultural lands and forests are being diverted to commercial purposes and away from smallhold producers, fishers and pastoralists. The result is displacement, hunger and poverty.
“Natural resources such as gold, copper, gas, wood and oil are granted to mining companies without the consent of the people who live there. In Pacaipampa, Peru, a 94% vote against a copper mine was declared illegal by the government,” according to Mercy Sister Marielena McKenna of Peru.
Although land grabbing is nothing new, in the past decade this blatant takeover of both small farming lands and vast tracts of forests, mountains and rivers has increased at an alarming rate and is driven by:
- Financial Investment: Growing financial speculation in food commodities as well as increasing farmland and commodities investments are causing a rush to acquire large areas of developing countries.
- Neo-colonialism: Multinational corporations and financial investors, country elites with extractive industry and commercial agriculture interests have gained unprecedented access to natural resources of countries, especially those of sub-Saharan Africa. These national resources, including land, have been grabbed and destroyed, often in the name of development.
- Climate change: Increasing consumer demand for food and threatened by food, water and energy insecurities due to climate change is driving developed counties to buy up land in developing countries in order to combat and solve their problems at home.
- Biofuel needs: Escalating energy demands and international energy policy that mandates the use of biofuels in gas encourages governments, corporations and wealthy landowners to convert land to sugar cane and palm oil production in order to satisfy the demands of developed countries for biofuels.
- Export commodities: Local people are driven to grow crops for an export and commodity market rather than for local consumption and sustenance. As a result of this shift, they lose entry to land for local food production.
What happens to farmers, peasants and indigenous peoples in land grabs? They lose.
“Selling of land to foreign investors and the de-nationalization of land degrades natural ecosystems by monoculture farming practices. Genetically modified crops and crops for biofuels replace a variety of food crops. Small and medium producers are rendered bankrupt and dispossessed when they cannot compete with large multinationals and are forced to sell their land,” according to Mercy Sister Ana Maria Siufi of Argentina.
Nothing less than decisive action by international, national and local advocacy can begin to eradicate this abhorrent invasion of the rights of peoples worldwide.
Peasant groups, social movements and civil society organizations – all unanimously agree what must be done to stop land grabbing and to achieve food sovereignty, land tenure and sustainable livelihoods:
- Implement legitimate agrarian reform.
- Demand that governments, corporation and foreign investors respect and protect the basic human rights of peoples.
- Respect the resource rights of the rural poor in all large-scale land transactions.
- Require governments to invest in agroecology to benefit peasants, farmers, fisher folk and pastoralists.
- Reform farm and trade policies to embrace food sovereignty, as well as land and water rights.
- Return the control of the commons to the local people.
- Ensure environmental sustainability in decisions on land and water-based acquisitions and investments.
- Regulate corporate and foreign investment of land, bioregions and wetlands.
- Remove subsidies and overhaul international biofuel policies.
- Regulate the financial markets and stop food speculation.
- Hold accountable all investors and traders in food, land, water and energy.