Development experts, policymakers and academics, meeting at a major conference on global land grabbing, being held at IDS, were told today that a new 'scramble for Africa' is taking place. A major study released by the World Bank last September found that in 2009 deals were being struck for the allocation of 45 million hectares of land, 70 per cent of this was in Africa. But today, those attending the conference, were told that new research by the International Land Coalition and partners suggests that the real figure is substantially higher, perhaps double this amount, again mostly in Africa.
Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur and keynote speaker, said: 'There is a real risk that the current scramble for land will transfer wealth from the poor and the marginalised to those who have access to capital and markets, with deeply regressive consequences.'
Research presented at the conference provides a comprehensive picture of land acquisition. It suggests that Africa is a particularly easy target for land deals, where customary land tenure and land use are inadequately recognised by governments.
Stephen O'Brien, UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development, said: 'When done right, these sorts of arrangements can benefit everybody involved. But it's vital that the interests of the poorest and most marginalised groups are taken in to account, both in the decision making process when looking at whether to sell agricultural land, and in getting their fair share of the subsequent benefits, whether financial or food produced.'
Ian Scoones, joint convenor of the IDS hosted Future Agricultures Consortium, said: 'The international community should be very concerned about this evidence of a new scramble for Africa. Investment in agriculture is very important to development, but the impact of international land deals on farmers and poor communities often remains hidden. Land is central to identity, livelihoods and food security. The questions of who wins, who loses and why, as well as the social, political and ecological consequences, are central to understanding the impact of such deals.'
Delegates at the conference were presented with over 120 papers outlining examples of land grabs across the globe. This evidence suggests that the scope of global land deals is widespread and pervasive and often driven by politics rather than economics. People have been pushed off land in countries such as Ethiopia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Zambia. In 2010, a 35,000 hectare deal was proposed for South African farmers to take over ailing state farms in Libya. This deal was put on hold earlier this year in view of political unrest in the region, while deals in Egypt, Sudan and elsewhere are continuing.
The international conference on 'Global Land Grabbing' running from 6 to 8 April was organised by the Land Deals Politics Initiative which is hosted by the Future Agricultures Consortium at the Institute of Development Studies.