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Food and sustainability

Land Grabbers Being Charged

The phenomenon of land grabbing is becoming more and more common and is starting to be seen in Europe as well. BCFN, through the dissemination of the Milan Protocol, promotes the practices associated with sustainable agriculture at the institutional level.

After water and petroleum, land is the new resource that speculators have set their eyes on. The growing prevalence of “land grabbing”, or rather the acquisition of large areas of land by private citizens or government bodies for the purpose of cultivating it at the expense of the local populations and of their habitual ways of working and taking advantage of the land, is proof.
In recent years there has been an increase in this phenomenon and in the size of singular acquisitions, to the detriment of the identity, livelihood, and food safety of local citizens.
In fact, among the structural factors that reduce access to food is the growing competition for farmland and water resources. It is important to note that in the first decade of this century growing competition for land and water, together with the need to respond to a growing demand for food and energy, has played a fundamental role in the emergence of investments destined for the acquisition of large plots of farmland (over 200 hectares) by means of concessions, buying and selling, or leasing (generally for between 55 and 99 years) on the part of various kinds of investors (public, private, or in partnership).
This is not an illegal phenomenon (or at least, not always), however the term “land grabbing” was created precisely to be able to report cases in which these investments are made without the free and informed consent of the local populations, under non-transparent conditions, and in violation of human rights. To date the phenomenon applies to almost 60 million hectares of land and over 1000 investments made worldwide, according to the data collected by the Land Matrix observatory, which also publishes an interactive map of the reported cases.


In Europe As Well
The availability of large tracts of low cost land in areas with abundant water resources, climatic conditions favourable to farming, cheap manual labour, and geographic proximity to export markets has decidedly influenced the geographic distribution and concentration of these investments, emerging between 2004 and 2005 and intensifying in correlation with the increase in the price of food in international markets and the contraction of the global economy in 2007-2008.
Recent studies have shown that the scarcity of land suitable for farming and of water resources is a determining factor at the core of these acquisitions (for example, in the case of Middle Eastern investors), as is the need to produce crops destined to be used as bio-fuel. This is the case for European investments, not only in developing countries, but also within the European continent. In fact, for some time now the phenomenon has involved the most fertile lands in the heart of Europe, as reported by the study entitled “Land Concentration, Land Grabbing and People’s Struggle in Europe”, published by the Transnational Institute (TNI) for European Coordination Via Campesina and Hands off the Land network.
An unexpected figure emerges: 50% of Europe’s farmland is in the hands of 3% of the land owners; a situation which, in terms of percentage, is similar to that in countries like Brazil or Colombia. The countries most involved in land grabbing are Hungary, Romania, Serbia, and Ukraine, but large agri-business conglomerates have started focusing their attention on France, Germany, and Austria as well.



The Role of the Milan Protocol
After years of underestimating this phenomenon, today even institutions are committed to looking for a solution, including Secondo impegno, a part of the Milan Protocol, promoted by BCFN, and signed during Expo Milano.
The institutions and countries that signed this document have promised to “work hard to promote forms of sustainable agriculture and food production in light of the changing climatic conditions and in full respect of natural resources, with particular attention on environmental, agricultural, and socio-economic issues”.
Among the good practices mentioned there is also the commitment to “identify and propose laws for disciplinary action against international financial speculation of raw materials and land speculation, as well for protecting communities susceptible to land grabbing on the part of public and private organizations, while also strengthening the local communities’ and local populations’ rights to the land”.
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