London (UK) — Major farmland investors such as banks and pension funds must stop facilitating land grabs, say civil society groups on the eve of a global farmland investment conference in London on 3-5 December.
Banks and pension funds are increasingly engaging in large-scale acquisitions of land with extremely damaging consequences for local populations. The London conference will bring together funds with more than USD3 trillion in assets to explore opportunities for investments in Africa, Latin America and Russia.
The civil society groups are warning that pension funds and banks attending the conference, for instance Deutsche Bank, must ensure they do not fund risky investments that threaten the livelihoods and food sovereignty of countless local communities.
Since 2008 rising financial investments in land have contributed to more than 200 million hectares of land being taken from small farmers, fisherfolk, and other rural communities, robbing them of their means of survival. Land grabbing also frequently involves violent evictions and human rights violations. Institutional investors are expected to increase by 500% their agricultural investment portfolios by 2017.
Kirtana Chandrasekaran, Friends of the Earth International Food Sovereignty programme co-ordinator, said: "Unfortunately private investment in farmland may be seen by many as low risk and positive for developing countries. Yet they are often a disaster for local communities and the environment. Legal uncertainty and community opposition means that most farmland investments are also risky for investors."
"Major investors such as banks and pension funds need to urgently investigate their investment portfolios and stop funding land grabs," she added.
Earlier this year Friends of the Earth Europe released the report 'Farming money: How European banks and private finance profit from food speculation and land grabs'. The report analyses the activities of 29 European banks, pension funds and insurance companies, including Deutsche Bank, Barclays, RBS, Allianz, BNP Paribas, AXA, HSBC, Generali, Unicredit and Credit Agricole. It reveals the significant involvement of these financial institutions in food speculation, and the direct or indirect financing of land grabbing.
In Liberia, farmland investments have facilitated land grabbing. A quarter of the country - including vast swathes of fertile land- has been handed to palm oil, rubber and logging companies, preventing its use for food production. These large plantations are promoted as a means to create jobs, bring development, and increase the government's budget. In reality they are jeopardizing the land rights of local populations, threatening local livelihoods and putting the future of one of the world's most significant biodiversity hotspots into doubt.
This week in Liberia the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) / Friends of the Earth Liberia is holding a major conference with oil palm plantations-affected communities who are demanding to be heard and consulted.
Between 2009 and 2010 the government of Liberia allocated more than a million acres of land to transnational palm oil producers Sime Darby and Golden Veroleum Liberia without consulting or securing the consent of those living on and using the land.
In the past few years, Ethiopia allocated huge areas of fertile arable farmland to foreign investors with little consultations with the affected communities. Since 2008 more than 3.6 million hectares of land has been allocated to foreign investors. For instance, in Gambela region, an Indian company -Karuturi Global- has been allocated staggering 300,000 hectares of land depriving indigenous people of access to water, fishing and grazing grounds, traditional construction materials, and food. Like in many other cases there has been a lack of prior consent and consultation with the local people and affected communities were not consulted and did not give their prior consent these farmland investments.
"In Ethiopia and elsewhere farmland investments for instance in plantations are jeopardizing the land rights of local people, and threatening local livelihoods ," said Nyikaw Ochalla from Anywaa Survival Organisation-ASO.
"In Madagascar, landgrabbing is caused by foreign and domestic investors implementing agribusiness projects and setting up biodiversity conservation areas, but also developing tourism and extractive industry infrastructure" says Mamy Rakotondrainibe, from the Collectif pour la défense des terres malgaches -TANY in Madagascar.
"We are currently supporting pastoralists communities' claims against the Italian company Tozzi Green which aims to lease 100 000 hectars in the Ihorombe region to mainly cultivate jatropha for agrofuel production" she adds.
A report released earlier this year by Friends of the Earth Uganda revealed widespread violations of people's rights and environmental destruction from a land grab in Uganda.