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What Is Land Grabbing?


In the United States, nearly 40 acres of farmland is lost every single hour of the day. The story isn’t any different in other parts of the world. In developing countries, the rush to buy farmland is even more intense. Every second, land the size of a football field is lost to private investors and banks in poor countries. As foreign investors continue to swallow up huge tracts of land, it’s the local communities that suffer the most.

But to truly understand the threat of land grabbing, you need to understand what it is.

What is Land Grabbing?

The term “land grabbing” is exactly what it sounds like: the large-scale acquisition of land. In this case, the acquirer or the land is typically a private investor or agribusiness. These entities purchase farmland, and lease it on a long-term basis for the purpose of producing agricultural commodities.

Oftentimes, these investors operate in what they call “legal grey areas.” Some of these questionable deals are called “land grabs.” These deals happen without the informed consent of communities. Sadly, the end result is often farmers being forced off their land and homes. Families are often left hungry.

What Caused the Spike in Land Grabbing?

In 2008, a spike in food prices prompted a rush in land deals. While the land was designated for farming, the crops grown on the land involved in these deals is rarely used to feed the locals.

Instead, investors are snatching up large tracts of land to grow profitable crops, like palm oil, soy and sugarcane. And in many cases, these crops are exported out of the country.

More than 60% of the crops grown on land purchased by foreign investors in developing countries is designated for export. As a result, the local communities suffer, leaving them hungry. To make matters worse, two-thirds of these deals take place in countries that have serious hunger issues.

How is Land Grabbing Affecting Local Communities?

Isn’t it a good thing to invest in farmland?

At first, it may seem as if the purchase of land for the purpose of farming (rather than development) would be a good thing. And it can be. However, in the case of land grabbing, many families lose the land they use to grow food for their families.

In one swoop, families lose their jobs, their homes and their livelihoods in these scrupulous deals. And in some tragic cases, land is taken from communities and families in a violent way – all in the name of profit. Families are helpless and have zero recourse in many cases.

With a rising population and a spike in food costs, land grabbing is a practice that will likely continue for the foreseeable future unless action is taken on the government level.

One would assume that buying farmland for the purpose of growing crops would be beneficial for the world’s developing countries, where hunger can be a major issue. However, investors are buying these tracts of land with the intention of exporting the crops to rich nations, making the hunger problem even worse. Crops not designated for consumption are used to meet the biofuel targets of developed nations.

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