Land Grabs Leave People Homeless

Demand for cheap food and fuel in the rich world is driving poor people from their homes, according to Oxfam, as big business, including British companies, buy up millions of acres of land in the developing world in increasingly violent ‘land grabs’.

The trend for buying up huge areas of land in poorer countries to grow cash crops like sugar harks back to the Colonial era.

But the problem has not gone away and may even be getting worse due to the increasing demand for food, the pressures of climate change, water scarcity and competition for land from non-food crops such as biofuels to power vehicles.

In a new report to highlight the scale of land grabs today, Oxfam estimate that 227 million hectares (560 million acres) have been sold, leased or licensed in large-scale land deals since 2001, mostly by international investors.

A lack of transparency over the deals makes them hard to confirm. However 1,100 deals covering 67 million hectares (165 million acres) – an area the size of Germany – have been cross-checked by the Land Matrix Partnership, a coalition of academic, research and non-governmental organisations.

Dame Barbara Stocking, Chief Executive of Oxfam, said communities rarely have full legal title to the land documented and women, who produce up to 80 per cent of food in some countries, generally have weaker land rights.
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As a consequence people are driven from their homes with no where to go and no means of supporting their families.

“Many of the world’s poorest people are being left worse off by the unprecedented pace of land deals and the frenetic competition for land,” she said.

“The blinkered scramble for land by investors is ignoring the people who live on the land and rely on it to survive.”

Oxfam said land grabs are going on in Indonesia, Guatemala, South Sudan and Honduras, with communities forced to leave their land and reports of violence.

In Uganda it is claimed more than 20,000 people lost their homes and land in evictions to make way for a UK-based timber company, the New Forests Company, to grow plantations.

The report quotes local people who claim they were evicted violently, with beatings. They say they now have no where to grow food and cannot send their children to school.

Oxfam are now working alongside the community to help people get compensation or equivalent land.

However the New Forests Company said people were resettled peacefully.

“This has been corroborated on a number of occasions by meticulous audits of the company by highly respected international organisations including the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and the IFC (International Finance Corporation, part of World Bank),” said a spokesman.

Oxfam want financiers and buyers to take responsibility for what is happening on the ground, while governments in countries where companies involved in land acquisitions are based should demand standards and safeguards to protect small-scale food producers.

Measures such as biofuel targets which encourage large-scale land buys should be removed, the report urged.

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