Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Land Grab Situation Out of Control

Is it a stampede, a gold rush, a swindle or massive exploitation? The plain fact is that no one knows what is going on with the land grab situation around the world.

Land grab transparency is a necessity. And Canada should be included as well. 

The World Bank issued a report in September, but according to, the WB got the basis of their information from Grain's own affiliate, and then spent months sending researcers out in the field to examine the information gleaned from the pages of

"The veil of secrecy that often surrounds these land deals must be lifted so poor people don't ultimately pay the heavy price of losing their land," World Bank Managing Director, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, declared upon releasing the study. 

But doesn't give the World Bank too much credit on that one:

It's true. And she could have started by making available to the public all of the contracts and investor-state agreements that the Bank's study team was able to access in the course of this research.

And over all, calls the World Bank report "Smoke and Mirrors".

Among other recent land grab factoids: New Zealand recently scuttled (at least tempoarily) a Chinese takeover of its largest Dairy farm after a huge public outcry. New Zealand is planning to tighten controls on foreign land purchases.

But New Zealand is hardly among the most vulnerable countries. Many poor or developing countries, whether run by tin-pot dictators or just plain and simply desperate for cash, are easily persuaded to part with land in exchange for cash.

A "World Agriculture Investment Conference" held in London in September offered the following seminar topics and themes, among others:

* Identify the best agriculture opportunities from across the globe: Region by region case studies showing you the premium agriculture investment opportunities in Eastern Europe, Asia, South America, North America, Africa and Australasia
* Take advantage of agriculture investment strategies: Expert tips on the different ways you can get exposure to agriculture markets and the pros and cons of each investment strategy
* How your peers evaluate agriculture investment opportunities: Discover what a key investment group considers to be the ideal agriculture investment opportunity for a solid portfolio
* The practical side of agriculture investments: Proven techniques for selecting the right operator to manage your agriculture investment and how best to overcome cultural barriers
* Implications of regional policy, law and regulation: Discuss and debate local policy issues and the technicalities of differing legal structures and tax mechanisms to improve your investment decision making

There is also an increase in investment funds and pension funds getting in on farmland investments in the U.S.

With global population on the rise and tens of millions more hungry people today than there were just a few years ago, it is very tempting to buy into the notion of corporate ownership and management being more productive perhaps in a sense. But this comes at what cost? Displaced peasants and farmers, huge tracts of fertile land funneled into corporate holdings and planted with cocao, coffee, genetically modified rice or corn, ethanol crops... might as well be jello trees.

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