In other times, the rich and powerful would come to take the land of the poor and weak...by force. Now, it seems, land grabs in the developing world are made by simply buying the property.
The member states of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) gathered last week to confront the issue of land ownership in a world facing the globalization of property markets. A study commissioned by the Committee on World Food Security shows that rapidly developing countries are threatening many small-scale farmers by buying more and more land. International investments in agriculture are at an all-time high.
Both established wealthy countries and emerging markets want to ensure their population’s food supply beyond what their lands are able to provide. For example, Saudi Arabia has no choice but to resort to foreign investments because of its growing population and its lack of water supplies. The same goes for China, whose inhabitants make increasingly more money and intend to eat accordingly. And the situation is likely to get worse in the next decades. The study predicts a 70% rise in world food demand because of different factors like population growth and globally higher revenues.
The increasing production of biofuels also explains why international buyers are becoming so interested in purchasing agricultural lands, while the 2008 economic crisis also heralded land ownership as a relatively safe investment alternative.
At first, such a demand for land was well received by countries that can’t afford to fully develop their agricultural sector. But problems have quickly surfaced: the financial discrepancies between opulent investors and humble states; the fate of local populations, who often live on the land without any property title; and the question of how the benefits should be divided among investors, host states and local communities.
The study advises that more power should be given to the least privileged of the three actors, namely the local communities, by granting a maximum of farmers property rights. The idea is tempting. But putting it into practice may prove a challenge: some communities have already been given titles, but the experience did not solve all the problems.
Read the full article by Etienne Dubuis in Le Temps, in French
*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations
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