Oxfam warns that modern day land rush is forcing thousands into greater poverty

22nd Sep 2011

Oxfam calls for British company to investigate the forced eviction of more than 20,000 Ugandans to make way for its plantations

Oxfam today launches a major new report highlighting the growing pace of land deals brokered around the world, often to the peril of poor communities who lose their homes and livelihoods - sometimes violently - with no prior consultation, compensation or means of appeal.

In the report Land and Power, the international agency reveals preliminary research indicating as many as 227 million hectares have been sold, leased or licensed in large-scale land deals since 2001, mostly by international investors. Lack of transparency and the secrecy that surrounds land deals makes it difficult to get exact figures but to date up to 1,100 of these deals amounting to 67 million hectares have been cross checked. Half of these deals are in Africa, and cover an area nearly the size of Germany. (1)

Oxfam warns this modern day land rush follows a drive to produce enough food for people overseas, meet damaging biofuels targets or speculate on land to make an easy profit. However, many of the deals are in fact 'land grabs' where the rights and needs of the people living on the land are ignored, leaving them homeless and without land to grow enough food to eat and make a living.

This is likely to get worse as the increasing demand for food, the gathering pace of climate change, water scarcity and non-food crops like biofuels compete for land. Already, nearly three billion people live in areas where demand for water outstrips supply.

Oxfam Chief Executive Dame Barbara Stocking said:  "Many of the world's poorest people are being left worse off by the unprecedented pace of land deals and the frenetic competition for land. The blinkered scramble for land by investors is ignoring the people who live on the land and rely on it to survive."

Oxfam's report profiles the devastating effect land grabs in Uganda, South Sudan, Indonesia, Honduras and Guatemala are having on vulnerable communities. The report is part of Oxfam's GROW campaign which aims to secure a future where everyone has enough to eat. Women, who produce up to 80 per cent of food in some poor countries, are usually most vulnerable as they have weaker land rights.

In Uganda, Oxfam's research indicates that at least 22,500 people have lost their homes and land to make way for a British timber company, the New Forests Company. Many evictees told Oxfam how they were forcibly removed and have been left destitute, without enough food or money to send their children to school. There were court orders in force which named the company but eye-witnesses say that company workers took part in some of the evictions anyway. NFC denies that it was involved in any evictions. (2)

Christine, a farmer in her mid 40s, who lived in Kiboga district before the Uganda land grab said: "All our plantations were cut down - we lost the banana and cassava. We lost everything we had. The company's casual labourers would attack us - they beat and threatened people. Even now they won't let us back in to look for the things we left behind. I was threatened - they told me there were going to beat me if we didn't leave."

Stocking said: "The case in Uganda clearly shows how land grabs are going under the radars of existing safeguards intended to protect vulnerable people. The New Forests Company describes itself as ethical and says it follows international standards yet more than 20,000 people were evicted without meaningful consultation or compensation to make way for their plantations.

"It's not acceptable for companies to blame governments for shortfalls in their operations.  Investors, no matter how noble they pertain to be, cannot sweep aside the needs and rights of poor communities who depend on the land they profit from."

Oxfam is calling for investors, governments and international organisations to prioritise putting a stop to land grabbing by fixing the current policies and regulations which all too often fail to ensure that, when investors negotiate deals, local people are consulted, treated fairly, and that all relevant international standards are respected. These include the World Bank's International Finance Corporation Performance Standards and the Forest Stewardship Council's standards.

Governments should avoid pandering to investors' wishes, and prioritise existing land use rights - not just where legal land title or formal ownership rights are held. Governments should recognise that women have equal rights over land and ensure that all agricultural investments benefit local communities who rely on the land to survive.  While governments and companies get their house in order to stop future land grabbing, there is an urgent need to remedy the damage done by existing land grabs, including in the case of the Uganda international investment.

Perverse incentives such as the flawed biofuels targets, like the EU's target of obtaining 10 per cent of transport fuels from renewable sources by 2020, should be scrapped to curb the rush on land to meet biofuel demand.

Meanwhile, the UN's Committee on Food Security in Rome could take an important first step when it meets in Rome next month, by adopting credible pro-poor, pro-women guidelines on land tenure.

Stocking said: "Land investment has great potential to help people work themselves out of poverty but the current rush for land is leaving people worse off. Global action is crucial if we are to protect local people from losing what little they have for the profits of a few, and build towards a tomorrow where everyone has enough to eat."

//Ends


Notes to editors

For a copy of the report, a detailed study on the Uganda case, photographs or to arrange an interview, contact:

Lucy Brinicombe on 07786 110054 / 01865 472192 lbrinicombe@oxfam.org.uk,

or Georgette Ginn on (0)7824 503108 / 01865 472237 gginn@oxfam.org.uk


You can view the report here

1) This data is compiled by the Land Matrix Partnership, a coalition of academic, research and non-governmental organisations. The 227 million figure is based on information on land deals over 200