The demand for land and natural resources has significantly accelerated in the last two decades due to the 2008 food price crisis and resulting land speculations. This led to a surge in large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs), often referred to as land grabbing. Since 2000, over 25 million hectares of land deals have been carried out across the African continent.
While private actors are largely the ones executing LSLAs, their land acquisitions are encouraged and financially supported by governments. This includes governments within the Global South, which reduce barriers for land transfers, as well as governments within the Global North, many of which finance these land deals via their public development banks. The policy brief series is particularly concerned with a complex web of financers, namely private equity funds and European development finance institutions, which have either indirectly or directly financed numerous land acquisition projects in Africa. These LSLAs have coincided with human rights violations and conflicts, with local communities bearing the burden of the harm generated.
Proponents of LSLA often frame it as a development opportunity for Africa. However, the intensification of industrial agricultural practices and monoculture plantations that are associated with LSLAs have contributed to countless human rights violations and severe negative social and environmental impacts. In Africa, an additional 14.3 million hectares of land deals have failed and have never become or are no longer operational. These failed deals leave scars and the incidences of bankruptcy and serial transfers of land ownership further increase the insecurity of affected communities that live nearby and/or on the land in question.
The majority of LSLAs fail to respect human rights, including the failure to uphold the key principle of Free Prior and Informed Consent when negotiating the land contracts and/or land use changes. Nor do the projects associated with most LSLAs provide guarantees to benefit local communities, as is often promised. Such deals are characterised by reduced security of land tenure, often leading to the forced eviction of rural communities, and inadequate compensation, such as for those communities evicted and/or who face reduced land access. Further, it is not uncommon for LSLAs to lead to conflicts over land and water resources, exacerbating pre-existing conflicts, violence and divisions within and between communities. This presents a real risk within fragile and conflictaffected areas.
Agricultural projects associated with LSLAs replace small-scale agriculture and therefore lead to a discharge of labour. Simultaneously, any jobs provided by companies on the land are most commonly day labourer work on an agricultural plantation, resulting in often atrocious working conditions. The loss of land for small-scale food producers, combined with the fact that many of the projects invest in producing crops for non-food purposes, decreases food production at the household and community levels and leads to higher food insecurity. Furthermore, the industrial agricultural plantations associated with many LSLAs barely achieve higher yields than small-scale food producers. Moreover, the intensive industrial agricultural model has been proven to cause environmental damage, such as pollution and the depletion of natural resources, leading to soil
Inadequate land laws as well as the insufficient implementation of land laws create perverse incentives for corruption and support efforts to weaken democratic institutions. Hence international standards are not followed – exacerbated by the culture of impunity and lack of accountability that characterizes many of these deals. The absence of meaningful access to justice
and mechanisms of redress results in complicated and toothless grievance mechanisms for communities, which are often stalled, and/or coincide with accounts of repression, violence, and mistrust.
To read the complete Policy Brief click on EN-Land Briefing Addax