FAO and land grabbing

FAO and land grabbing

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By Vicent Boix

In the frantic search for opportunities within agribusiness, “land grabbing” has spread, in which investors, entrepreneurs, states, etc. Some seek to speculate with land, others plant biofuels for rich countries, and others take advantage of other people's water and land to grow food and then export it to their nations.

If there is a business that has a guaranteed future, it is none other than food. We can do without all the objects that surround us and that supposedly make our lives better, however, filling the stomach will always be an obligation. This is how those few multinationals that control the food trade and the investors who have poured their money into agricultural markets have understood it.

But in the frantic search for opportunities within agribusiness, “land grabbing” has spread, in which investors, entrepreneurs, states, etc. Some seek to speculate with land, others plant biofuels for rich countries, and others take advantage of other people's water and land to grow food and then export it to their nations.

Be that as it may, some estimates already establish that in Africa projects have been processed for a total area of ​​67 million hectares (the combined surface of Italy and Germany). (1) The abuses have happened non-stop and those wonderful benefits that they would enjoy the towns that would adapt to the new agricultural investment, have remained a dead letter. In this way, the people evicted from their lands number in the tens of thousands. In addition, violent evictions, imprisonments, legal proceedings against peasants, job insecurity in new agricultural projects, hoarding of other natural resources such as water, deforestation of forests, alteration of river beds, etc. have been reported.

FAO's many speeches

FAO, (2) as a good daughter of the United Nations, welcomes all kinds of ideas, no matter how contradictory they may be between them. For example, given the recent food crisis in South Sudan, the head of this organization in the African country stated that “We must first ensure that families have quick access to safe and nutritious food, as well as other basic needs ( …) We can do this by helping people to resume the agricultural, livestock and other activities on which they base their livelihoods. ”(3)

The reality is that if you want to help people to resume their agricultural activities, you will have to guarantee land, water and economic resources. That is why this scenario proposed by the head of FAO in South Sudan, collides head-on with the massive land grab on the continent, which is helping people to abandon the agricultural, livestock and other activities on which they base their means of subsistence.

However, and despite the seriousness of the events, FAO also supports land grabbing without hesitation. Together with the World Bank or the International Fund for Agricultural Development, it works on the “Principles for responsible agricultural investment”. As is clear from the title itself, for these organizations land grabbing is an investment that for impoverished nations will supposedly bring certain benefits such as jobs, technology transfer, rural infrastructure, food security, etc. In general, the philanthropic and propagandistic arm of the new agricultural investment offers nothing that has not been heard a thousand times to justify foreign investment in general, and nothing that will not be heard, for example a century ago, when certain fruit transnationals transformed states. Central American independents in "banana republics". To this day and as it was said before, abuses and expulsions are imposed on benevolence.

And speaking of benevolence, let me tell you a case. In 2009, the Swiss company Addax Bioenergy leased 20,000 hectares in Sierra Leone to grow sugar cane and generate bioethanol. (4) It has been reported that the communities were not consulted to see if they agreed to lease their land and the agreement was secret between the company and the village council. The crops of some peasants were destroyed and the compensation received was three times less than the real price. The farmers have revealed that they now have to travel several kilometers to reach the new lands assigned to them and it has been found that the company is not meeting its social commitments (employment, improvement of local agriculture, etc.). These data were collected by members of the Sierra Leone Council of Churches and by a human rights activist, who were also accompanied on the ground by a local NGO. The Right to Food and Nutrition Observatory took these reviews and included them in a report on land grabbing it published in 2010. (5)

This is explained by the fact that in March, FAO released a series of news items on the “Project on Bioenergy and Criteria and Indicators for Food Security” (BEFSCI, for its acronym in English). This project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, and according to the information contained in the FAO website, it aims to develop “… a series of criteria, indicators, good practices and policy options on the development of modern bioenergy that promotes rural development and food security… ”(6)

It goes without saying that this project is a clear endorsement of the development of agrofuels and land grabbing. Demagogically, he relates energy cultivation to food security, ignoring the tragedy of a continent, Africa, which must import tens of millions of tons of basic food. Without going any further, Sierra Leone, the country where Addax Bioenergy operates, has managed to allocate 24% of its GDP to importing food. (7)

The point is that in one of the BEFSCI materials, entitled “Good socio-economic practices in modern bioenergy production”, the case of Addax Bioenergy is mentioned as an example of clarity, citizen participation, solidarity, etc. The benevolences of the Swiss company mentioned in this manual were contributed by local producers, although without being verified by FAO. There is no doubt that some locals have been able to benefit from Addax Bioenergy projects, but it is not understood that a United Nations organization forgets the other side of the coin, the other testimonies and injustices. It is not understood that an FAO project uses this controversial example as a role model, without checking the facts. He even used in his reports a photograph that appears on the Addax Bioenergy website, in which hoarders and hoarders are seen friendly shaking hands. (8) This fact would not have the slightest importance if the origin of the disease had been indicated. snapshot. But not doing so and also recognizing that the information was not contrasted, allows us to think that the data was collected from a single source, without assessing the serious irregularities that some organizations have revealed.

The Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Land

The FAO Committee on World Food Security (CFS) was reformed in 2009 to provide it with more versatility, specific weight and decision-making capacity for the creation of policies related to food security. The most important achievement of this reform was the space for participation that was provided to stakeholders, especially those most affected by food insecurity.

For three years, the voluntary guidelines on responsible land governance have been discussed and agreed upon within the new CSA. These guidelines are intended to safeguard access to land and other natural resources for the most vulnerable sectors of society, and will help states that are affected by land grabs to legislate to guarantee these rights.

On May 11 and after many meetings, the guidelines were approved by the states, the private sector and the social groups that had participated in their preparation within the CSA. The first reactions of the social organizations involved -which in some cases represented millions of peasants and farmers- have been positive because, on the one hand, guidelines have been approved that can help curb the impunity that has prevailed up to now, and on the other, it consolidates the CSA reformed as a space for participation and decision-making.

However, some social groups have also stated that the guidelines fall short in many respects, continue to legitimize land grabbing, and can be unevenly understood depending on the actors. Everything, because the action of certain states and especially of the private sector, forced to agree on certain ambiguous and very general positions, and therefore in the end, the interests of those who risk eating and working had the same weight as those interests of those who, if they do not invest in biofuels in Africa, will do so in Chinese factories of espadrilles and pens. Very democratic yes, but very asymmetrical too.

Page 3 of the report "Good socio-economic practices in modern bioenergy production".

Addax Website

Vicent boix. Associate researcher of the Chair "Tierra Ciudadana - Fondation Charles Léopold Mayer", of the Polytechnic University of Valencia. Author of the book El parque de las hamocas. Article from the series "Food Crisis", see more here.


1. INTERMON OXFAM: “Intermón Oxfam warns that the current massive purchase of land is plunging thousands of people into poverty”, 22 September 2011.

2. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

3. FAO: “High food insecurity in South Sudan”, Juba / Rome, February 8, 2012.


5. “Hunger and land grabbing in Sierra Leone”, in the report “Land grabbing and nutrition, challenges for global governance”, Right to Food and Nutrition Observatory, 2010


7. MARTÍN, M.A .: African agriculture, The Books of the Waterfall and Africa House, Madrid, Spain, 2012, p. 83.

8. BEALL, E. and ROSSI, A .: “Good socio-economic practices in modern bioenergy production”, FAO, Rome, Italy, year 2011, p. 3.

Video: Responsible Governance of Tenure (May 2022).


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