Responsibly Destroying the World’s Peasantry

BRUSSELS – The World Bank, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Secretariat recently presented seven “Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment.” The principles seek to ensure that large-scale land investments result in “win-win” situations, benefiting investors and directly affected communities alike. But, though well-intended, the principles are woefully inadequate.

It has been several years since private investors and states began buying and leasing millions of hectares of farmland worldwide in order to secure their domestic supply of food, raw commodities, and biofuels, or to get subsidies for carbon storage through plantations. Western investors, including Wall Street banks and hedge funds, now view direct investments in land as a safe haven in an otherwise turbulent financial climate.

The scope of the phenomenon is enormous. Since 2006, between 15 and 20 million hectares of farmland, the equivalent of the total arable surface of France, have been the subject of negotiations by foreign investors.

The risks are considerable. All too often, notions such as “reserve agricultural land,” or “idle land,” are manipulated out of existence, sometimes being used to designate land on which many livelihoods depend, and that is subject to long-standing customary rights. The requirement that evictions take place only for a valid “public purpose,” with fair compensation, and following consultation of those affected, is honored more in the breach than in the observance.