Food Security…and Land Rights

An article sent to me by a friend working on the Food Crisis Task Force at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The article points out that private companies and agribusiness are taking land away from small farmholders, displacing people and centralizing food systems instead of focusing on local production.

Food crisis leading to an unsustainable land grab

companies across the world are buying huge quantities of foreign land
for the mass production of food. Sue Branford wonders if this quick-fix
solution risks creating an even bigger environmental crisis

Sue Branford,, Saturday November 22 2008 00.01 GMT

The world map is being redrawn.
Over the past six months, China, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait and other nations have been buying and leasing huge quantities
of foreign land for the production of food or biofuels for domestic
consumption. It's a modern day version of the 19th-century scramble for

This year's bubble in food prices – driven by financial
speculators, biofuels and compounded when some countries halted food
exports to ensure their own supplies – led to pain for nations
dependent on imports.

Alarm bells rang, with many governments
alerted to what might lie ahead as climate change and soil destruction
reduce the supply of food on the world market. The result, a huge
international land grab, raises many troublesome issues.

governments are encouraging the trend, the acquisitions are generally
made by the private sector. Along with agribusiness, corporations and
food traders, investment banks and private equity funds have been
jumping on board, seeing land as a safe haven from the financial storm.

Indeed, with the supply of the world's food under long-term
threat, investment in land may prove a more solid bet than earlier
speculation in dotcoms and derivatives.

Yet from a global
perspective, it is difficult to see how such investments can deliver
long-term food security. The investors will want a quick return. They
will practise an industrial model of agriculture that in many parts of
the world has already produced poverty and environmental destruction,
as well as farm-chemical pollution.

Furthermore, many local
communities will be evicted to make way for the foreign takeover. The
governments and investors will argue that jobs will be created and some
of the food produced will be made available for local communities, but
this does not disguise what is essentially a process of dispossession.
Lands will be taken away from smallholders or forest dwellers and
converted into large industrial estates connected to distant markets.

these very small communities may have a key role to play in helping the
world confront the interlinked climate and food crises. Many such
communities have a profound knowledge of local biodiversity and often
cultivate little-known varieties of crops that can survive drought and
other weather extremes.

Scientific studies have shown that
farming methods that are not based on fossil-fuel inputs and are under
the control of local farmers can be more productive than industrial
farming and are almost always more sustainable.

The reason why
this year's food crisis had such a harsh impact, particularly in Asia
and Africa, was that many countries had been pushed by the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other institutions to produce
food crops for external markets. They would have been far less
vulnerable if they had concentrated first and foremost on feeding their
populations through local production.

Many of the countries that
are rushing to outsource their food supplies should perhaps be looking
first to see if they can produce more of their food locally, even if it
means carrying out difficult measures like land reform.

seeking a quick fix to their food shortage, they may well end up
without a long-term sustainable solution. And even if they succeed in
generating a steady stream of food imports, they may simply be
exporting their food insecurity to other nations.