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Report Finds Big Ag's Global Land Grab Expanding to New Frontiers

While 'food security-driven land grabbing' has subsided in recent years, 'plain old profit-driven agribusiness expansion is now the dominant agenda'

"Increasingly, gaining access to farmland is part of a broader corporate strategy to profit from carbon markets, mineral resources, water resources, seeds, soil and environmental services," GRAIN says. (Photo: Friends of the Earth International)

Big Ag's global land grab is huge, growing, and "extending its reach to new frontiers," according to a new report from the international non-profit GRAIN.

A follow-up to its October 2008 analysis—which "exposed how a new wave of land grabbing was sweeping the planet"—GRAIN's latest publication paints a "disturbing" picture, showing that "while some deals have fallen by the wayside, the global farmland grab is far from over."

Indeed, GRAIN's 2016 data set documents 491 large-scale land grabs taking place over the past decade, covering over 30 million hectares of land in 78 countries. While the total area covered by such agricultural investments has declined by five million hectares over the past four years, the number of financial deals to secure the land has increased.

And, the report notes:

While some of the worst land grabs have been shelved or toned down, a number of new deals are appearing, many of which are 'hard-core' initiatives to expand the frontiers of industrial agriculture. We say hard-core because these deals are large, long-term and determined to avoid the pitfalls that earlier deals ran into. Much of the Asian-led oil palm expansion in Africa, and the advance of pension funds and trade conglomerates to secure access to new farmlands, fall into this category. Increasingly, gaining access to farmland is part of a broader corporate strategy to profit from carbon markets, mineral resources, water resources, seeds, soil and environmental services.

Moreover, while "food security-driven land grabbing" has subsided in recent years, "plain old profit-driven agribusiness expansion is now the dominant agenda," GRAIN states.

For example, the analysis reads:


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Oil palm plantations alone are responsible for a large portion of land grabs in the food and agriculture sector in the last few years. Much of this expansion is led by Asian conglomerates like Wilmar, Olam and Sime Darby, which are carving out massive chunks of territory in Africa, as well as Latin America, East Asia and the Pacific. Governments play a key role here. They are building infrastructure, revising regulations and entering into new "public-private partnerships" that facilitate private sector investment in agriculture, including farmland acquisitions. They are also signing new trade and investment agreements and aid packages aimed at facilitating the expansion of agribusiness.

Just last week, a report (pdf) from the Rainforest Action Network and other groups detailed how palm oil plantations—in addition to destroying rainforests, forcing local communities from their land, and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions—engage in "a pattern of egregious labor violations" across the globe.

But there is cause for hope, GRAIN concludes, highlighting "the tremendous resistance growing to counteract these deals."

In fact, its report states: "Resistance against land grabs is at the forefront of many of today's struggles for social, political and economic transformation, putting corporations and governments colluding complicit with land grabbing on the defensive."

Speaking to such battles, the international peasant movement La Via Campesina declared on Tuesday:

Capital is appropriating our territories. Hence, we must respond by turning the struggle for land into a struggle for territory. This will require forging unions between—on one side—peasant farmers, day laborers, indigenous peoples, nomad shepherds, artisan fishermen, forest peoples and other rural communities, and—on another—city dwellers, especially those in suburban communities and consumers. It will require producing healthy food using agroecology and know-how handed down from our ancestors and steeped in popular traditions. We must show that land in community hands is better for society and Mother Earth than land which is at the mercy of capital.

"We must redouble our resistance efforts to ensure that more lands can stay under the control of food producing communities," GRAIN writes.

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