Biofuel crops need space to grow, and space is expensive… in rich countries. In poor, developing countries, not so much. The World Bank is the latest body to find that biofuel targets in rich, developed countries and emerging economies are resulting in what some refer to as “post-colonial land grabs” — large-scale farmland purchases in the developing world by these industrialized or emerging economies.
The World Bank released a 164-page report this week — Rising global interest in farmland: Can it yield sustainable and equitable benefits? — confirming that these land grabs are happening.
Approximately 45 million hectares of land were grabbed for such purposes last year, according to the report. Last year’s land grabs were more than 10 times larger than the average for the previous decade (4 million hectares a year).
Approximately 70% of demand was in Africa, especially in countries such as Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Sudan.
The specific reasons for this massive increase, according to the World Bank report: food price volatility and increased demand for land in the US and the EU (due to strong biofuel targets or mandates).
Concerns About These Massive Land Grabs for Biofuel Crops? Yes.
“These large land acquisitions can come at a high cost,” said World Bank managing director, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. “The veil of secrecy that often surrounds these land deals must be lifted so poor people don’t ultimately pay the heavy price of losing their land. With food prices still highly volatile, large-scale land deals are a growing reality in the developing world, highlighting the need for concerted action for the benefit of all parties.”
“Uncompensated loss of land rights, especially by vulnerable groups,” is one major problem identified by the World Bank.
Friends of the Earth, which has studied and created reports on this issue as well, thinks that governments should be scrapping their biofuel targets to deal with the problems linked to it.
“This World Bank report confirms that high Western demand for biofuels and grain for animal feed is causing land grabbing in Africa – at the expense of local people, who are left hungry and unable to afford inflated food prices,” said Friends of the Earth’s food campaigner Kirtana Chandrasekaran. “Europe has no excuse for inaction – we can feed the world without companies grabbing vast areas of land if rich countries drop their biofuel targets and reduce their demand for factory farmed meat and dairy.”
The World Bank proposes less drastic measures, such as improving the process by which land deals are made and ensuring that local communities understand and are granted their rights.
No matter which solutions you feel more inclined towards, the fact that some things need to be changed is clear. Current international farmland deals are causing serious problems, especially social justice, environmental justice, and land rights problems.
Photo Credit: MikeBlyth via flickr
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