Reclaim Our Lands, Reclaim Our Future! | Day of the Landless 2019

Landgrabbing, anywhere, is an outright denial of the farmers’ right to land, right to till, the rural and indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and human dignity.

Landlessness and landgrabbing amid looming global economic depression

The world capitalist system is yet again confronted with another looming global economic depression.[1] With little to no recovery in more than a decade after the Great Financial Meltdown of 2008 and the subsequent food crisis, global economy is set to plunge yet again into recession this year or in 2020 according to the economic leaders.[2] Most vulnerable to global economic crises are developing nations, especially their rural peoples.

The global rush for land that ensued following the 2008 financial crisis has not abated. On the contrary, landgrabbing has developed in form – larger, more intense, and in many cases, bloodier.

Since 2000, transnational companies (TNCs) and institutional investors have grabbed around 97.5 million hectares of land around the world in 3,158 concluded deals. More than 600 deals spanning almost 36 million hectares are further being negotiated –totaling 133 million hectares of land sold and leased to foreign and domestic investors.[3]

Table 1. Top Target Countries and Global Hunger Index*

LM Rank Countries GHI Rank GHI
1 Peru  35 8.8
2 Congo, Dem. Rep.  116 38
3 Ukraine  15 <5
4 Brazil  31 8.5
5 Russian Federation  21 6.1
6 Philippines  69 20.2
7 Indonesia  73 21.9
8 Sudan  112 34.8
9 Argentina  18 5.3
10 Mozambique  102 30.9
11 Madagascar  116 38
12 South Sudan  116 38
13 Papua New Guinea  97 29.7
14 Liberia  108 33.3
15 Congo, Rep.  99 30.4
16 Ethiopia  93 29.1
17 Sierra Leone  114 35.7
18 Guinea  92 28.9
19 Cambodia  78 23.7
20 Malaysia  57 13.3
21 Myanmar  68 20.1
22 Tanzania  95 29.5
23 Guyana  55 12.6
24 Zambia  115 37.6
25 Central African Republic  119 53.7
26 Ghana  62 15.2
27 Cameroon  71 21.1
28 Pakistan  106 32.6
29 Gabon  63 15.4
30 Uruguay  15 <5

*countries in emergency status without a GHI designated rank were given 116 and 38

At the heart of these massive landgrabbing cases is the financialization of land and agriculture. Since the creation of the global rural land market in the early 2000s that culminated in the 2008 land rush, financial investors have led the onslaught of landgrabbing to the rural peoples in developing countries. Rising and volatile food prices, on one hand, and decades of deregulation of land markets prescribed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – World Bank (WB) Group in developing countries, on the other, have made landgrabbing financially ludicrous, stable, and easy.

In more than just a decade, investment funds specialized in the broad food and agriculture sector jumped from 100 in 2007 to 530 by October 2018, amounting to an aggregate US $83 billion.[4] Those specializing in farmland acquisition and management leaped from 38 in 2007 to 145 over the same period – consisting 43% of the total assets under management.[5]

Large scale foreign landgrabs happen mostly in the most food insecure of developing nations. While most of the land deals preclude global food security, only 8% of these land deals are exclusively for food production[6] and 60% of this small portion still are set for export[7].

Most of these land deals – around 70% are reserved for biofuel production, an industry bound oil seed production of oil palm, jathropa, corn, wheat, and sugar. The steady rise in global oil prices throughout the decade is creating a consistent push for now powerful financial investors to shift land and agricultural cultivation from food production to biofuels.[i] Aside from agribusiness, large land deals also include mining and infrastructure development.

While these large scale landgrabbing occurs in most of the Global South, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa are of particular interest right now for global landgrabbers.[8]


International finance institutions (IFI) and development finance institutions (DFI) play a key role in global landgrabs

IFIs and DFIs are reshaping land policies undermining food sovereignty and denying land rights to farmers. For decades, the IMF-WB Group have imposed market colonialism and economic genocide through conditional loans, with the IMF shadow program/advisory services as prerequisites. Not only do they fund private agribusiness ventures, they also urge states to reform their land policies to serve corporate interests.

For instance, in 2017, the WB has included land laws and regulations among the indicators of its Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) project, which ranks countries according to friendliness to agribusiness. According to the World Resources Institute, regulatory and policy frameworks as they are favor investors over communities in land formalization processes in every step of the way.

Trends of corporate capture in global aid and development financing have prompted the rise of DFIs – banks providing financing to financing to private corporations, including TNCs, supposedly for development goals. Yet in many cases, DFIs have, directly and indirectly, financed landgrabbing activities in the Global South. The IMF-WB’s private sector arm International Finance Corporation (IFC), for example, has been bankrolling landgrabs through private equities and commercial banks in more than 30 countries,[9] mostly in the Global South.[ii]

National development agendas in developing countries continuously veer away from substantive and redistributive land reform programs. In response to market pressures and loan conditionalities, many developing countries continue to restructure land policies to accommodate foreign investments, which in many cases partner with the local landed elites. This further aggravates landlessness and rural peoples’ dispossession.

In Burma, the amendments made to the 2012 Vacant, Fallow and Virgin (VFV) Lands Management Law basically imposed a notice of eviction to the farmers and indigenous peoples. With layers of bureaucracy to get approval from within the set six-month timeframe to apply for a land use permit – until March 11 – the revamped law will only make a massive number of Burmese rural peoples landless, and refugees such as the Indigenous Karen have no more lands to return to. These lands, meanwhile, become free to be leased to private entities. [10] Burmese farmers can be penalized with up to 500,000 kyats (US $328) of fine and/or two years in jail if they continue to cultivate the lands they customarily owned.[11]

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro’s very first order as soon as he assumed presidency was the transfer of the concern and decision-making on Indigenous and quilombola territory to the agriculture ministry run by agribusiness tycoons.[12]

In Zimbabwe, thousands of families from eight provinces face forced eviction to give way to the construction and operations of a number of megadam and energy projects in the country, including the Mutirikwi Dam in Masvingo West, Zimbabwe Bio Energy ethanol plant in Naunetsi Ranch, and Tokwe-Mukosi Dam in Masvingo to name a few. The families are alleged of violating Gazetted Lands (Consequential Provisions) Act [Chapter 20:28], occupying the land without lawful authority, even if they have been living on the land for almost two decades even before the projects came. Currently, more than a thousand families from Mzaro Farm in Masvingo West are asserting rightful claim on their disputed land despite the eviction order issued to them in January.[13]

The US, China, Canada, as well as Malaysia and the United Kingdom are leading the charge in stealing lands from farmers, indigenous peoples and rural communities – accounting to more than half of the global land grabs.[14] But most notable is the large share of US and EU investment funds vetting on these landgrabs.[iii]

In the last few years though, China has launched a massive land grab spree under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – a debt-trap initiative to bolster China’s influence in Asia, Europe and Africa – that it has earned the second spot, next to US, in the number of concluded transnational land deals.[15] In Africa alone, land acquired by Chinese companies range from 240,000[iv] to 6 million hectares.

Vast tracts of land in the Global South, largely for infrastructure development, are being held and controlled by Chinese companies through conditional loans with developing countries. In Sri Lanka, the 99-year lease of Hambantota Port and the construction of the Colombo Financial City are brandishing through existing land laws, dispossessing farmers. Auxiliary activities for the construction such as quarrying, road construction, and offshore sand extraction have been displacing farmers and putting enormous pressure on fishers’ livelihood and on the environment.

Military intervention, proxy wars, man-made famine, and civil wars aggravated by resource grabbing catalyzes forced rural dispossession and landlessness

Following the2009 food crisis and land rush, the number of hungry people on the planet surpassed 1 billion[16] — most of which are rural peoples. Despite the posturing of declining number of people in hunger since then, the past three years saw a 35% jump in the number of people under crisis-level hunger – a whopping 124 million. Rural peoples constitute the more than 90% of those in acute hunger, and 80% of 815 million in chronic hunger and 2 billion malnourished.[17]

Most of the countries in food crises for the past five years, such as South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Ethiopia to name a few, are among those with the largest land deals and cases of landgrabbing.[18]

People in crisis level hunger are concentrated geographically in West Asia and the North Africa, especially in countries where foreign direct military intervention, proxy wars, and civil wars aggravated by resource grabbing can be found. Most vulnerable are the rural peoples displaced by militarization, military actions, bombing, economic blockades, and conflict-related violence.

In Yemen alone, around 22.2 million of the 29 million population are in need of humanitarian assistance.[19] US-Saudi coalition are illegally blockading strategic ports, barring aid, and intentionally bombing farmlands and fishing boats – facilitating the death of more than 63,000 adults and an estimated 85,000 children under the age of five[20] through starvation.

In Palestine, the March of Great Return is close to marking its first year. By the 48th week of the Palestinian peoples’ assertion of their right to return, Israeli forces have killed more than 250 and injured over 26,000 from their ranks.[21] Sixteen were killed in West Bank and Gaza in the past two months – since the start of 2019 – and seven of them were children.[22] The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees has registered a total of 5.4 million Palestine refugees due to the Israeli occupation.[23]

Fascism and militarism are on the rise to hasten landgrabs and protect foreign and domestic elite’s investments.

Landgrabbing and militarism has always come hand in hand. According to PANAP’s Land and Rights Watch, there were 128 cases of human rights violations related to land conflicts in 2018 alone. Land related killings, according to the Global Witness, reached its peak in 2017 – with 207 documented.

In the Philippines, the deadliest country in Asia for peasants, a total of 182 farmers were politically killed under the fascist regime of President Rodrigo Duterte. The latest was the murder of Roberto “Bobby” Mejia, a peasant leader in Pangasinan province who was among the organizers of the bungkalan or the organized land occupation in Brgy. Sangcagulis, in February.[24]The killings and harassments especially in the country’s rural communities are expected to intensify under the cloak of an anti-terrorism campaign. In fact, before2018 ended, Duterte ordered the deployment of military troops in the provinces of Bohol, Samar, and Negros in November and extended Martial Law in Mindanao for the third time in December to address the alleged “lawless violence” in these resource-rich areas.

Day of the Landless – a call for solidarity

Today, the fundamental problem of landlessness in many rural communities is being ignored, obscured, or even trivialized by many international, intergovernmental, and national policy making bodies. Any talk of solving rural poverty, inequality, and social injustice without tackling and addressing landlessness in the Global South is a fool’s dream.

Rural communities around the world are rising against landlessness. In Philippines, Brazil, Indonesia, and many other countries, farmers are reclaiming their lands from local landlords and foreign TNCs. Hundreds of communities facing eviction are holding their ground against the advance of landgrabbers.

As the bitter lessons of peasant movements in the global south has taught us, no amount of paper or words can defend the peoples’ right to food, to land, and to food sovereignty. Only through the direct and collective participation of the rural peoples can we reclaim our lands and reclaim our future.


[i] The new kinds of investment products that financialization has encouraged provide an avenue for large-scale financial investors to pour huge amounts of money directly into financial products that encourage the acquisition of land in developing countries, often for the production of biofuels.

[ii] In Guinea, IFC has financed resource extraction projects amounting to US $140M in loans that resulted to the displacement of 150,000 people, while hundreds of thousands more face the risk of cyanide pollution in their water sources. Similarly, IFC has funded mining operations in Burma that displaced 16,000 farmers and indigenous Karen peoples in 23 communities.

[iii] Institutional investors include insurance companies, pension funds, mutual funds, hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds,and university and foundation endowments

[iv] China leaning research group China Africa Research Initiative


[1] http://fortune.com/2018/09/13/jpmorgan-next-financial-crisis/

[2] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/02/how-to-rebalance-our-global-system/

[3] LandMatrix.org 2018

[4] Impact Investing in the global food and agricultural investment space. Valoral Advisors. November 2018

[5] Global Food and Agriculture Outlook. Valoral Advisors 2018

[6] LandMatrix.org 2018

[7] Global Landgrabs: Beyond the Hype. Kaag and Zoomers. 2016

[8] Global Food and Agriculture Outlook. Valoral Advisors. 2018

[9] Database. IFC and Sub-investment in FIs. Inclusive Development International. 2017

[10] https://www.mmtimes.com/news/myanmars-land-law-ticking-time-bomb.html

[11] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-landrights-lawmaking-feature-idUSKCN1QF03Y

[12] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/02/brazil-jair-bolsonaro-amazon-rainforest-protections

[13] http://www.hlrn.org/img/cases/Zim_evictions_final.pdf

[14] LandMatrix.org 2018

[15] Ibid.

[16] FAO 2011

[17] FAO 2018

[18] LandMatrix.org 2018

[19] http://foodsov.org/stop-starving-yemen/

[20] https://www.savethechildren.org/us/about-us/media-and-news/2018-press-releases/yemen-85000-children-may-have-died-from-starvation

[21] https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israeli-forces-kill-palestinian-boy-and-wound-others-during-gaza-protest

[22] https://electronicintifada.net/content/palestine-pictures-february-2019/26801

[23] https://www.unrwa.org/sites/default/files/content/resources/unrwa_in_figures_2018_eng_v1_31_1_2019_final.pdf

[24] https://www.facebook.com/saka.pilipinas/photos/a.110758739546395/323144704974463/?type=3&theater

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