By Elena Garcia
In the past few years, private investors backed by corporate interests such as global banks, financial firms, hedge funds and food giants have bought a huge amount of farmland across the global South.
Oxfam's 2012 Our Land, Our Lives report on land grabbing said foreign investors had bought enough land in the past decade to feed 1 billion people. Oxfam singled out the World Bank, which has boosted its finance of intensive, large-scale agriculture in the global South from $2.5 billion a year in 2008 to $9.5 billion in November 2012.
The World Bank refused Oxfam's call to put a freeze on its loans to land grabbers, saying its investments were not adding to the food crisis, but providing “major new investment in agriculture to improve the productivity of large and small farmers while protecting the environment”.
However these investments are being used by corporations to buy up prime food-producing land, just as free trade treaties come into play that will allow them to sue governments that affect their profits by attempting to regulate their use of that land.
As at least two-thirds of the land grabbers intend to “export everything they produce”, Oxfam said these business plans “will come into direct conflict with the need for more land to feed a growing global population”. Most firms that take the World Bank's money use the land to produce biofuels to feed cars, or commodities to sell on overseas markets.
Researchers Shepard Daniel and Anuradha Mittall said in a 2009 study: “Not only does land grabbing mean that farmers will lose their land, but these lands will be transformed from smallholdings or communal lands into large industrial estates connected to far-off markets.”
The new wave of land grabbing is also turning the farmland into industrial monocultures, which rely heavily on chemical inputs and produce huge greenhouse gas emissions.