(Highlights in the excerpted text are mine.)
1.2 The demand for land
A number of different factors lie behind this phenomena. Many cash rich and land poor governments are trying to secure food supplies by buying land overseas for domestic supplies. Land and resource rich but cash poor governments are seeking foreign direct investment in land and agriculture. While many of the governments involved are seeking to expand their domestic production of food crops and crops for fuel, agribusiness is seeking to expand its operations and boost profits, growing more, more cheaply; growing new crops for new markets, particularly for agrofuels – as well as gaining access to new markets in rapidly developing economies. Investors and speculators are looking for good investment returns.
Governments and private companies are both keen to gain access to fertile land at a low cost. Rapid increases in the food prices in recent years left many governments aware of their vulnerability to the market and eager to boost domestic food supplies. Countries such as China, India and Egypt want to ensure they have access to rice and grain. Other countries such as Saudi Arabia have recognised that the changing climate and limited water supplies mean that some crops can no longer be grown at home. Instead they are looking to outsource production to areas where fertile land and water are in greater supply.
Land grabbing for food has been recorded across Africa, notably in the Sudan and Uganda; in Pakistan, in Cambodia; in Russia, the Ukraine and Georgia; and in parts of South America, including Paraguay and Brazil. Some of these are countries which struggle to feed their own populations – but which have enough fertile land to attract foreign investors.
The growing demand for vegetable oils in particular, driven by increased human consumption and the promotion of agrofuels, particularly in Europe, has led to expansion of industrial monocultures. The growing market for palm oil has seen companies buying up land in tropical areas of Africa and Asia to establish plantations. Similarly, soy has expanded in South America, and land has been grabbed for jatropha in India, Indonesia and a number of African countries.
High levels of demand for land have pushed up prices, bringing in investors and speculators. With long term forecasts predicting increasing water shortages and other climatic changes to agriculture, few expect the price of land to fall. As a result, the big investment banks have moved into farming, buying up agricultural land, livestock farms and processing plants.
Another driver of land grabbing is particular types of environmental conservation projects such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing countries (REDD) projects that generate carbon credits from plantations. The appropriation of land and resources for environmental ends has been termed as ‘green grabbing’ (Vidal, 2008). In many cases communities that have managed and conserved forests for many generations are locked out of their communal forest lands due to conservation needs. As plantations are accepted as forests in international definitions, forested land is replaced by tree plantations aimed at generating carbon credits for companies (FOEI, 2008).