Oxfam International has urged the World Bank to freeze its own land investments and review its policy and practice in order to prevent land-grabbing*.
The movement’s new report, ‘Our Land, Our Lives’ revealed that in the past decade an area of land eight times the size of the UK has been sold off globally, enough to grow food for a billion people. Estimations showed that this was the equivalent to the number of people who go hungry in the world today.
In particular, Oxfam expressed concern that with the current increase in food prices, interest in land could accelerate as rich countries would try to secure their food supplies and investors seen land as a good long-term bet.
According to the report, more than 60% of investments in agricultural land by foreign investors between 2000 and 2010 were in developing countries with serious hunger problems. However, two thirds of those investors planned to export everything they had produced on the land.
Furthermore, the activist group pointed out in its report that the World Bank itself has found that the main link between countries with the most large-scale land deals was poor protection of rural land rights by citing the results of a research conducted jointly with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In order to avoid the current situation exacerbate and to prevent land grabs, Oxfam urged the World Bank to ‘put its own house in order’ by freezing for six months all lending across the Group to projects that involve or enable agricultural large-scale land acquisitions, while at the same time reviewing existing World Bank Group investments that involve or enable land acquisitions. In particular, the global movement expects that the World Bank will assess the extent to which existing policies, activities and safeguards ensure transparency, respect and uphold the principle of free, prior and informed consent; promote land rights and good land governance; and promote food security and preserve the environment and natural resources.
Moreover, according to Oxfam, the World Bank should show and prove commitment to improving its policy and practice with regard to land acquisitions on the basis of the results of this review.
In Oxfam’s view, the group should especially ‘set an example to ensure that investments benefit the poor’ which to be followed by investors and governments, as well as pay attention to the formal complaints brought by affected communities. The report pointed out that since 2008 alone, 21 formal complaints have been brought by communities affected by Bank investments that they say have violated their land rights. It also emphasised that while responsibility for land-grabbing lied with many actors – from developing and developed country governments to private investors – the World Bank had more influence to ‘change the terms of the debate’.
According to the global movement, the World Bank played a pivotal role in land acquisitions in several ways, namely as a source of direct financial support for investments in land; as a policy adviser to developing country governments; and as a standard-setter for other investors.
Last but not least, the report highlighted the importance of ending land grabs for ensuring conflict prevention stating that according to the World Bank itself, very little, if any, of the land classified as „available‟ was actually free of existing claims. As a result, large-scale land acquisitions inherently raised the spectre of conflict with dispossessed communities.
*Land grabs are land acquisitions which violate human rights, fail to consult affected people, don’t get proper consent and happen in secret. Land grabbers very often overlook the possible social and environmental impacts of the land deal.