Die Gier nach Land
Christian Bobst
Focus Land grabbing

Greed for land

Land grabbing

In the wake of the financial and food crisis, an old phenomenon has again been jeopardising the food security of millions of people: the sale and leasing of huge swathes of land to plantation companies, investors and foreign governments. It is especially rife in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. Land grabbing concerns huge expanses of land around the globe. By conservative calculations, more than 75 million hectares of land have been allocated in this manner since the year 2000, exclusively for agricultural and forestry purposes. This land, which by and large was previously cultivated by peasant farmers, is then controlled by financial players, corporations, companies owned by foreign governments, or by wealthy private persons.

The reasons for land grabs are as diverse as the players and the land deals themselves – financial players who discovered land and water as safe investments following the financial crisis; corporations and investors profiting from soybean, palm oil, cut flowers or CO2 certificates through tree monocultures; and countries like Saudi Arabia or South Korea which, on the back of the food crises, sought new, cultivable land for the benefit of their citizens. The upshot is that they often operate in grey areas of the law between traditional land rights and codified ownership structures. They are supported by multinational institutions like the World Bank and also by governments hoping for an economic upturn and development - or even just private profit.

Africa and Asia are especially affected by land grabbing, but Europe and Australia, too, are witnessing a steady increase in the sell-off of huge swathes of land, be it for industrial and large-scale production of food, animal feed, plant-based commodities, agrofuels, for reforestation for carbon offsetting, or purely as an object of speculation. In most instances, water grabbing also plays a crucial role, in that water is siphoned away from local people and used to irrigate monocultures, and is thus exported with the products cultivated. The price is paid by smallholders, herders, fisherfolk and all those whose livelihoods depend on the long-term use of land. Peasant farming suited to the region is being displaced by agribusiness, in which land becomes a commodity and a means of profit maximisation. It is a model that has already cost millions of people their livelihoods.

What HEKS/EPER is doing

Land grabbing is destroying the livelihoods of millions of people. HEKS/EPER and its partner organisations in the South are therefore passionately dedicated to combating large-scale land grabbing and also the profit-oriented agriculture that drives it.

  • Encouragement of networking to combat land grabbing: HEKS/EPER supports various partner organisations in West Africa and Indonesia that are opposing land grabs and assisting the affected people in securing their access to land. HEKS/EPER funds workshops and initiatives that enable the organisations and affected people to share their experiences and to network
  • Promoting the discussion of land grabbing in Switzerland: «Bread for All» was the first organisation in Switzerland to bring to the attention of the public and the media to the issue of land grabbing. HEKS/EPER ascertains which companies in Switzerland engage in or support land grabbing, conducts research and gives tangible support to those affected. Through this joint endeavour, we are changing the structures that give rise to land grabbing.
  • Halting financial flows for land-grabbing projects: HEKS/EPER and the former «Bread for All» have repeatedly publicised the financial involvement of Swiss banks and the public sector in land-grabbing projects, and pressure is being exerted to ensure that no Swiss public funds go towards land-grabbing projects.
  • Boosting peasant farming: HEKS/EPER is striving for a change of direction in agriculture. This is because much of the responsibility for land grabbing is attributable to the now dominant industrial agricultural model, which devotes huge tracts of land to producing agricultural commodities involving the intensive use of pesticides and fertilisers, and designed to maximise private profit.
  • Supporting pioneering work against land grabbing: Internationally, HEKS/EPER collaborates with the non-governmental organisation Grain, which was the first to bring the phenomenon to public notice and which coined the term "land grabbing". Besides studies and cooperation with numerous farmers' organisations, Grain operates the website farmlandgrab.org, which contains comprehensive information on land grabbing worldwide. The organisation was awarded the 2010 Alternative Nobel Peace Prize for its engagement.
Abgeholzter Wald in Brasilien
Christian Bobst

Background and case studies

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