|Cartoon from a post on the Africonline.org website|
Alarmed by exporters’ trade restrictions, food importing countries realised that their dependence on the agricultural market makes them vulnerable not only to a surge in prices but, more crucially, to an interruption in supplies.
Only a short time ago, farmland in Asia, Africa and South America seemed of little interest to outsiders. But the recent food crisis and water scarcity in many countries has changed foreigners’appetite with the result being that fertile soil in these regions are now sought by international investors with purchasing for hundreds of thousands of hectares.
|UNCTAD world map on land grabs for 2009|
The result of this new trend is the advent of a new form of colonialism that threatens to alter the international stability (as evidenced by reaction to the recent North African revolts, related to the increase in food prices).
Investing countries’ desire to repatriate the crops to feed their own population in the name of self-sufficiency changes significantly the nature of such investment. In the 1950s and 1960s, international companies focused on making money by growing food for a global market.
The trend to outsource the provision of food security and to pursue self-sufficiency at home is hotly contested by agricultural companies and trade officials. Carl Hausmann, chief executive of Bunge North America, one of the world’s largest agricultural trading companies, echoed a view widely held among other executives and government officials at the World Agricultural Forum last week in St Louis.
“Many governments are rethinking their approach to food security and are saying we need more domestic production, we need to be domestically independent,” he said. “I would argue the exact opposite approach is better. Without the free flow of trade in agricultural commodities and food products the health of any given country in any given year is at risk.”
Pascal Lamy, head of the World Trade Organisation, warned this month, that more trade rather than less was the solution to food security.
“If anything, international trade has reduced the price of food over the years,” he told a conference at the International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council in Salzburg, Austria. Such concerns are, however, unlikely to stop the trend. With agricultural commodities prices on the rise again and some of the export restrictions imposed a year ago still in place, most experts argue that the impact in Africa and elsewhere is likely to be long-lasting.
What needs to be done:
To prevent financial speculators from generating profits at the cost of the poor, we need strong regulation of commodity derivatives markets. This includes:
• Trade on transparent exchanges or clearing houses
• High margin requirements for Over-the-counter trade
• Reporting and public reports
• Price oversight and price limits
• Prevention of excessive speculation through position limits
• Trading prohibition for institutional funds, mutual funds and for proprietary trading
• Control of the speculation by multinational commodity companies
• Transaction tax on commodity derivatives trading
The introduction of some guidelines could be a first step to make operational the principles exposed above. This issue have been discussed in the following three websites:
- FAO tackles land grabbing in effort to increase Africa's food security - Deutsche Welle World website (14-10-2011) At FAO headquarters in occasion of the world food day have been discuss the introduction of voluntary guidelines to face the phenomenon The problem that the land is not sold by any old person, but by the countries themselves, and we need to begin by addressing that.
- Leading NGOs lobby for guidelines to protect 'land grab' victims - The Guardian - 14 October 2011Victims of "land grabbing" have joined 800 of the world's leading environment and development groups to press the UN to establish strong guidelines to protect communities affected by large-scale land investments.
- Protect people´s lands, water and forests - La vita campesina website Civil Society Urges the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to Adopt Effective Land Tenure Guidelines to Ensure Food Security and Respect for Human Rights
UN efforts to control land grabbing delayed
A voluntary code of conduct has been in the works since 2008, driven by concerns that countries such as China and Gulf Arab states are buying swaths of land in Africa and Asia to secure their own food supplies, often at the expense of local people. Investors are now scrambling to possess land assets before the sector becomes more regulated, as uncertainty in financial markets makes land an increasingly attractive investment, De Schutter said.
Farm land grab website
This website contains mainly news reports about the global rush to buy up or lease farmlands abroad as a strategy to secure basic food supplies or simply for profit. Its purpose is to serve as a resource for those monitoring or researching the issue, particularly social activists, non-government organisations and journalists.
Land grabbing: Government school buildings being sold off - The express Tribune 20 October 2011
In Pakistan, the NGO United Human Rights Commission Pakistan (UHRCP) Secretary General Rana Faizul Hasan – not to be confused with the Human Rights Commission Pakistan – filed a petition with the Sindh High Court (SHC) asking for action to be taken against a group of alleged land grabbers who have set their sights on government buildings, particularly schools, and are converting them into businesses.
Honduran police burn community to the ground - Grain website (14 October 2011)
Homes, churches, schools, and crops all destroyed as the post-coup government continues to side with wealthy plantation owners over the country's organized farmers.
Regulate finance for development
This site is the common project of six European NGOs (BWP, CRBM, CCFD EURODAD; GLOPOLIS and WEED) who want to focus on the (re)regulation of financial markets at EU level. As of now, the EU is hardly present as a regulatory actorm but there are proposals for its role to grow substantially. Our project wants to contribute to a more coherent and common political approach for financial regulation and supervision inside the EU and for common positions in international processes of reform, such as G20, IMF, FSB and the UN.
The Vultures of Land Grabbing The involvement of European financial companies in large-scale land acquisition abroad - Rinoceros website document - 2009
List of main financial companies and funds involved in large scale acquisition of land farm in poor countries
Foreign land purchases for agriculture: what impact on sustainable development? - December 2010 United Nations
The UN document examines the implication of the phenomenon for the sustainable development of the African region.
Agricultural Land Redistribution. Toward greater consensus - World Bank document 2009
The World Bank outlines how it is important to ensure that contracts of all types promote shared food security interests. This is a critical need for these types of investments today. Developing and least developed states should not be asked to trade their food security for that of states with greater fiscal resources.
Recognition of shared needs and a common agenda for food security is critical
Hedge funds 'grabbing land' in Africa - June 2011 BBC News
Hedge funds are behind "land grabs" in Africa to boost their profits in the food and biofuel sectors, the Oakland Institute, a US think-thank, said hedge funds and other foreign firms had acquired large swathes of African land, often without proper contracts
Land grab or development opportunity? Agricultural investment and international land deals in Africa - IFAD/FAO 2009 Report by IFAD