Ethics and Agriculture

MELBOURNE – Should rich countries – or investors based there – be buying agricultural land in developing countries? That question is raised in Transnational Land Deals for Agriculture in the Global South, a report issued last year by the Land Matrix Partnership, a consortium of European research institutes and nongovernmental organizations.

The report shows that since 2000, investors or state bodies in rich or emerging countries have bought more than 83 million hectares (more than 200 million acres) of agricultural land in poorer developing countries. This amounts to 1.7% of the world’s agricultural land.

Most of these purchases have been made in Africa, with two-thirds taking place in countries where hunger is widespread and institutions for establishing formal land ownership are often weak. The purchases in Africa alone amount to an area of agricultural land the size of Kenya.

It has been claimed that foreign investors are purchasing land that has been left idle; thus, by bringing it into production, the purchases are increasing the availability of food overall. But the Land Matrix Partnership report found that this is not the case: roughly 45% of the purchases involved existing croplands, and almost a third of the purchased land was forested, indicating that its development may pose risks for biodiversity.