Many faces of land grabs
Land grabbing is not new. But what is new is the massive scale of land grabbing that has taken place recently since the 2008 financial and food crises.
“Land grabbing takes on different forms. Women may be expelled from their land due after their husband dies, mining companies expel peasants and small farmers, as well as plantations, military bases, and eco-tourist projects. Investors are not only multinational companies or financial institutions, but may also be local and domestic.” [International Conference of Peasants and Farmers: Stop land grabbing!]
Land grabbing occurs both in the Global South and Global North, driven by local, national, and transnational elites, as well as financial investors and governments. In search for new and increasing profits, large swathes of land are either taken by force or purchased cheaply with the help of local and national governments and elites.
What is at stake is a major shift in who has “the power to decide how the land and water can be used now and in the future.” [ The Global Land Grab: A Primer] The desire to reshape land for the use of profits is leading to a global expansion of industrial agriculture, plantations of different kinds, mining, infrastructure projects, and many other types of uses. Peasant agriculture and food sovereignty are being continuously threatened by dangers as land is lost and as peasant farmers become immersed in global-supply chains.
However, peasant farmers, indigenous peoples, and their communities continue to organize and mobilize to defend their rights to the land and defend an agriculture that puts food, people, and the environment before profits.
Securing community land rights in Africa
In a continent where 70% of the population depends on agriculture, secure access to land and natural resources should be an unassailable right for all. But that is far from the case.
Customary governance of farmland, forests and pasturelands by traditional community leaders has been overlain with colonial and post-colonial land laws, leaving rural communities uncertain of their rights to the land they rely upon for their food, livelihoods and cultural integrity.
Recent trends of urbanisation, economic growth, and neo-liberal policies have commodified natural resources and created markets for land as a tradable asset. The financial crisis of 2007/08 and the sudden spike in food and oil prices saw a massive influx of capital into land. Between 2000-2016, African governments signed 422 large-scale land deals with investors, covering ten million hectares. Land grabs have been associated with multiple human rights abuses and social injustices, with thousands of communities forcibly evicted and left destitute. Women and youth, already disadvantaged in land access and control, often suffer the worst impacts.
In response to this crisis, global and continental guidelines were set up to establish principles for good land governance and define policies to protect customary and community land rights, notably the African Union’s Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy and the UN’s Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land. But these progressive policy frameworks have largely been ignored at the national and local level — where the land decisions are actually made. Thus the tenure rights of rural people across Africa, particularly women, remain weak and fraught with uncertainty.
It is essential that increased political pressure is brought to bear to accelerate the institutionalization of progressive policies to strengthen community land rights. Civil society advocacy needs to target the African Union and the regional economic communities to press their member states to institute the progressive policy guidelines. Crucially, because land rights policies only have real traction at the national and local levels, it is important for civil society to push for stronger national land rights legislation, and hold governments to account at the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.
We need to promote community land use management systems, highlighting the growing evidence that these can successfully improve livelihoods in equitable and sustainable ways whilst protecting and restoring ecosystems.
AFSA’s recent work on land rights includes a continental land policy study Policy Trends and Emerging Opportunities for Strengthening Community Land Rights in Africa, capacity building workshops for civil society and faith-based organisations, a series of African land case studies, and policy advocacy at continental level to promote community land use and management systems.
We must learn from the good land governance principles of our great-grandparents who bequeathed the land to us. We must develop and adopt sustainable land use and management systems that satisfy the needs of all land users: farmers, pastoralists, hunters, fishers, wild fruit collectors, and wildlife.
For more information go to www.afsafrica.org.
Climate and land grabbing
From a grassroots perspective, there has always been a strong link between the climate and environmental crises and land grabbing. For example, the causes of the climate crises and land rights violations are the same — an economic system based on endless natural resource extraction where extractive industries including industrial agriculture and plantations are leading contributors to both. At the same time the connection is also more immediate since corporate projects that cause the environmental crises such as mining and agribusiness are also responsible for the most documented killings of land and environmental Human Rights defenders.
Recently there has been a massive increase in interest for land and nature based climate mitigation and adaptation. But unfortunately many of these pose grave threats to peoples’ collective rights over their land and territories with a new wave of land grabbing for conservation projects but also via the commodification and integration of nature into financial markets — what we call the financialization of nature.
A key issue is so called “negative emissions technologies” or NETs which aim to remove carbon from the atmosphere — industrial countries and corporate emitters are now relying on NETs due to their historical failure to reduce emissions as rapidly as needed in line with climate justice demands.
One prominent corporate NETs scheme is to grow and burn massive areas of trees and crops for bioenergy and then store the carbon emitted in underground bunkers. This is known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage or BECCS and estimates suggest BECCS could require up to 3000 million hectares of land globally. Other options for NETs are so called ‘natural climate solutions’ or ‘nature based solutions’ which can include forest restoration, reforestation and afforestation. Each of these will have differing impacts on the environment, land and peoples’ rights depending on who controls them and how they are implemented.
Corporations are already seeing nature based solutions as an opportunity to offset their emissions. Offsets allow historically big polluters like oil companies to continue emitting and pass on their responsibility to reduce emissions onto conservation projects in communities in the Global South. Offsetting does not reduce overall emissions and will therefore exacerbate climate impacts on land. It is also unjust as it retains and extends control over territories by those most responsible for climate change. Offsetting amounts to a double land grab because corporations end up controlling land use at two locations — the site they are destroying and the location they are claiming as offset.
On the other hand decentralised solutions to the environmental and land grabbing crises, based on ecological, autonomous control and governance by Indigenous people, forest peoples, small scale food producers of their own land and territories – such as agroecology for food sovereignty and community forest management – are possible and are gaining importance as solutions for environmental justice.
Community forest and territorial management is the best way to preserve ecosystems such as forests, mangroves, wetlands and water bodies. Agroecology cools the climate by removing the need for fossil fuels, recycling nutrients on farms, re-localizing food systems and stopping the destruction of the environment for the production of agricultural commodities for profit. As ever it is vital that land justice and environmental justice movements work together to expose false solutions and demonstrate our own vision for a just future.