Driven by the demand for cheap food and fuel, the rich world, including British companies is buying up millions of acres of land in the developing world, to grow money-making crops such as sugar and biofuels to power cars.
But the land they buy, often classed as “unused,” “degraded” or “undeveloped”, is actually being used by poor families to live on and grow food. And women, who produce up to 80 per cent of food in some countries, generally have weaker rights to the land they live and work on.
During these so-called land grabs, families are often forcibly kicked off their land and any promises of compensation forgotten. The result, says a report out today by Oxfam, is that hundreds of thousands lose their homes and livelihoods, leaving them destitute and without enough food or money to send their children to school.
"Many of the world's poorest people are being left worse off by the unprecedented pace of land deals and the frenetic competition for land,” said Oxfam’s Dame Barbara Stocking, "The blinkered scramble for land by investors is ignoring the people who live on the land and rely on it to survive."
It is happening all across the poorest parts of the world in Indonesia, Guatemala, Honduras and all across Africa, from the cocoa groves of Ghana, the highlands of Ethiopia, to the pasturelands of Tanzania.
Highlighting the scale of the problem, in its new Land and Power report, Oxfam estimates that in the last 10 years, 227 million hectares (560 million acres) have been sold, leased or licensed in large-scale land deals since 2001, mostly by international investors.
In Uganda in East Africa, more than 20,000 people were turfed out of their homes and off their land to make way for a UK-based timber company, the New Forests Company, to grow plantations. Local people told researchers they were evicted violently, with beatings. They say they now have nowhere to grow food and cannot send their children to school. The New Forests Company told The Telegraph people were resettled peacefully.
Oxfam is calling for companies buying land in developing countries to take responsibility and for the international community to improve land rights. “Land investment has great potential to help people work themselves out of poverty but the current rush for land is leaving people worse off,” said Dame Stocking. Global action is crucial if we are to protect local people from losing what little they have for the profits of a few, and build towards a tomorrow where everyone has enough to eat.”