First Person

Land grabs – a growing scandal

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Ian Sullivan is an online campaigner for Oxfam.

Imagine waking up one day to be told you’re about to be evicted from your home. Being told that you no longer have the right to remain on land that you’ve lived on for years. And then, if you refuse to leave, being forcibly removed by hired thugs.

Thankfully, this scary situation is one that most of us will never have to face. However, for many communities in developing countries, it’s a scandal that’s on the increase. It’s what’s known as a land grab – a land deal behind closed doors that often results in farmers being forced from their homes and families left hungry.

Since widespread food price rises in 2008, land grabs have been happening more and more. Demand for land has soared as investors look for places to grow food for export, grow crops for biofuels, or simply buy-up land for profit. But in many cases, land obtained as “unused,” “degraded” or “undeveloped” is actually being used by poor families to grow food. Over the last decade, as many as 560 million acres of land in developing countries–an area greater than the size of California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming combined–have been sold, leased or licensed in large-scale land deals since 2001, mostly by international investors, according to our new report, Land and Power.

Families are often forcibly kicked off their land. Promises of compensation are often broken, never made, or deeply unfair. Even after the contract is signed, there is no guarantee a land deal will go ahead in accordance with it. Many evictees have told Oxfam how they were forcibly removed from their land and have been left destitute, without enough food or money to send their children to school.

Land investment should be good news for people in poverty, but the sad reality is that the frenetic scramble for land risks taking development in reverse.  When families are being kicked off the land they depend on without being consulted or adequately compensated and less food is grown as a result, that’s a very big problem indeed.

In recent months, Oxfam has been investigating how land grabs have already pushed thousands of people deeper into poverty. Our new report profiles the devastating effect land grabs in Uganda, South Sudan, Indonesia, Honduras and Guatemala are having on vulnerable communities. We hear stories from people like Christine a farmer in her mid-40s who lived in the impacted area in Uganda before the land grab, “All our plantations were cut down – we lost the banana and cassava.  We lost everything we had. The company’s casual laborers 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 they were going to beat me if we didn’t leave.”

We hope you will read our report, and then join our campaign to help ensure people like Christine are compensated for their losses, and future deals are made with the consent and support of local communities so everyone can benefit.

In the meantime, please watch our video – a parody based on Glengarry Glen Ross, the 1992 film where real-estate salesmen will do anything to succeed. Share it far and wide, and help us raise awareness of how land grabs are impacting people’s lives. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+