How Land Grabs for Biofuels Undermine Food Security

Land grabbing, a practice in which governments buy or lease land outside their borders, is a growing threat to food security. In 2009, total land grabs around the world equaled the size of France, with much of that activity happening in developing countries.

Some of the land grabbers are surprising.  While the culprits are typically nations and/or investors, even  American universities like Harvard and Vanderbilt have been channeling endowment dollars through hedge funds to make huge land grabs in Africa.

Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the United Nations and current chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, has been drawing attention to the tri-fold problem of climate change, food security, and land grabs, calling for an end to predatory land grabs.  In a recent lecture Annan criticized the practice:

“It is neither just nor sustainable for farmland to be taken away from communities in this way nor for food to be exported when there is hunger on the doorstep. Local people will not stand for this abuse – and neither should we.”

Land acquisitions are typically made to bolster a nation’s food security. But grabs are increasingly being done in the name of environmentalism and mitigating climate change, reports the Guardian:

“The irony is that most of the land is being taken for allegedly environmental reasons – to allow private companies to grow water-thirsty sugar cane and jatropha for the biofuels so much in demand in the west, where green legislation, designed to ease carbon dioxide emissions, is requiring they are mixed with petrol and diesel.”

Another growing issue is where countries source carbon credits. This has also spurred greater activity among countries looking to acquire credits for avoided deforestation under the Kyoto Protocol.

This practice has serious consequences for the local populations. As the Guardian reports, land grabs are leading nations like Kenya close to the brink of war:

“These people have lived here for hundreds of years, but suddenly someone writes up a piece of paper and they are squatters on their own land. The delta is of international importance, yet they control the water and drain the wetlands and portions are parceled off to private investors like the biofuel companies. Homes and lands are given away from under them. Nobody cares because nothing happens immediately, but it is coming. Tana Delta is in chaos. When everyone picks up their share with their bits of paperwork … it will be war. The day is coming.”

It just goes to show, every action has a reaction. These are serious problems that both developed and developing countries need to factor in when considering how to mitigate climate change.

— Tyce Herrman

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