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Oxfam warns of new 'Highland Clearances'

Posted by David Eyre UK Poverty Press Officer

4th Oct 2012

Oxfam campaigners take the Land Grab campaign to Glasgow's Buchanan Street
Oxfam has warned "land grabs" akin to the Highland Clearances in Scotland are taking place in developing countries with some of the world's poorest people forcibly evicted. 
The international development charity says land 26 times the size of Scotland was sold off globally in the last decade, enough to grow food for a billion people. 
The trend has parallels to the Highland Clearances when, during the late 18th and into the 19th centuries, the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, saw significant de-population. 
While some people left voluntarily to resettle overseas, others were brutally evicted from their homes - often to make way for sheep farming. 
Oxfam wants the World Bank - a key global investor - to learn from Scotland's past and act now to temporarily freeze its agricultural investments in land. 
The charity has launched a global campaign asking the Bank to review its advice to developing countries, help set standards for investors and introduce more robust policies to help stop land grabs. 
The Head of Oxfam Scotland Judith Robertson said: "Few events resonate more loudly through Scottish history, or stir up such emotion, as the Highland Clearances.
"But while they are part of Scotland's past - land grabs are part of the present in too many developing countries, many of which are amongst the poorest in the world. 
"The rush for land is out of control and the World Bank is in a unique position to help stop land grabs becoming one of the biggest scandals of this century - it must act.
"It can help stop these human rights abuses. Investment should be good news for developing countries - not lead to greater poverty, hunger and hardship.

"Scots, through our painful history, know the devastating impact land grabs can create - we cannot see a repeat of the Highland Clearances in the world's poorest countries."

The campaign is supported by The Thick of It star Scot Peter Capaldi who has added his name to a letter of support alongside a raft of international writers and artists - including Sex and The City actress Kristin Davis. 

In an open letter to the World Bank, they say: "We know about the gold rush and the oil rush. Now we have a modern land rush: a hidden scandal of the 21st century that we must stop. With food prices rising sharply again, a new wave of land grabs could be unleashed as investors seek to make a profit. Protections are needed. Fast."

 It comes as Oxfam launches its new report, Our Land, Our Lives, which reveals more than 60 per cent of investments in agricultural land by foreign investors between 2000 and 2010 were in developing countries with serious hunger problems. Two thirds of those investors plan to export everything they produce and nearly 60 percent of land deals have been for crops that can be used for biofuels.
Oxfam calculates land deals tripled during the food price crisis in 2008 and 2009 because land was viewed as a profitable investment. With global food prices again hovering at record levels urgent action is needed to stop the threat of another wave of land grabs. 
Oxfam supports greater investment in agriculture and small-scale farmers but the current rush for land has not been adequately regulated or policed to prevent land grabs.
Freezing investments in the short term would send a signal from the World Bank to global investors to stop land-grabbing and improve standards for:
  • Transparency - ensuring that information about land deals is publicly accessible for both affected communities and governments.
  • Consultation and consent - ensuring communities are informed in advance, and can agree or refuse projects.
  • Land rights and governance - strengthening poor people's rights to land and natural resources, especially women, through better land tenure governance.
  • Food security - ensuring land investments do not undermine food security.  

The UK government can use its influence in the World Bank to persuade it to implement the freeze. It can also play a crucial role as President of the G8 next year by putting food and hunger at the heart of the agenda, and addressing land grabs as part of this. Critically, it can also press the EU to reverse biofuels targets - a key driver of land grabs. 

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Blog post written by David Eyre

UK Poverty Press Officer

More by David Eyre