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Land grab

Land grabbing is a game I used to play as a kid. You drew a circle in the sand with a stick or knife and drew a straight line through the middle to divide it in two. One half was then named my territory and the other half was owned by my friend. After that we started the game by throwing our penknife in the plane of the other. If the blade stuck into the ground and stood upright you then drew a line up to and around the knife and in this way the area gained was added to your own territory. As a boy of 12, I liked this game very much. If we got bored of it, me and my friend wiped out the traces of our imaginary countries with our feet, shook hands and went in search of new adventures.


Land grabbing seems to be a game of a bygone era for children, but for adults it is more relevant than ever. Land grabbing at present is not a harmless game, but a big business. Large multinationals are buying huge amounts of land very rapidly. According to research by Oxfam International, investors buy a piece of land the size of a football field every second of the day. This means that every 48 hours a piece of land is bought as large as Rio de Janeiro.


As many as two-thirds of these transactions takes place in countries where there is hunger and extreme poverty, and a total of 68 percent of the purchased land is used to grow food that is directly exported out of the country. Paradoxically this means that hunger in these countries increases. The side effects of this type of property theft are often disastrous. The local population is often unceremoniously expelled from the area and sometimes entire villages vacated to make way for huge companies. Compensation for the loss is hardly ever offered. Food has become feed for speculators. It is traded on the stock exchange and the highest bidder wins. A side effect of this practice is that food prices in developing countries rise. In some countries food has become three or four times more expensive. If people previously needed a third of their income to buy food, they are now confronted with a serious shortage. This misery is partly due to the effect of 'the free market', which is supposedly self-regulating but in practice it fails dramatically.


Are there alternatives? I think so. The way we deal with ownership of land and capital dates from the time of ancient Rome and is in urgent need of renovation. The idea that ground (earth) can be owned, is just as strange as the idea that a man could be your property. Nature (e.g. land) is not produced by humans, so it is odd to say that someone is exclusively entitled. Soil should be used to promote the general welfare. Buying and selling of land is not in the interest of society, it is actually only in the interest of those who sell or buy. From the perspective of the community, land sales are even unproductive: in the end it is society that pays the price (eg in the form of interest and mortgage payments that farmers have to pass on to the price of their products).


A good alternative would be the neutralization of land and buildings, but this encounters huge resistance, because it is not in human nature to give up possessions. The urge to acquire wealth and to protect it seems a kind of intrinsic need. The idea that working and sharing together is much more effective is in theory quite understandable, but daily reality dictates otherwise. Laws and regulations are not adjusted to the promotion of equality.


This lack of regulation is also applicable to the practice of land grabbing. At present, most of the money for the purchase of large sections of land is provided by the World Bank. The World Bank is in a position to influence the way in which land is bought and sold. That gives us as individuals the opportunity to make our voice heard and to request the World Bank to temporarily stop the purchase of large sections of land by multinationals. In the meantime, they could work on alternatives that do justice to the local farmers and residents. Policymakers and politicians for example, could establish rules and regulations ensuring that ownership of agricultural land in each country is protected by the state. Moreover, it could be concluded that the yield of the land should benefit the people in the first place and not foreign investors, who further aggravate poverty in the world with their practices.


Michel Bijpost

 |  2013 05 13  |  Permalink  |  Share


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