Wednesday, October 31, 2012

FAO chief calls for a sheriff to curb "land grabs"

More attention is being paid to "land grabs" by the highest levels of the United Nations. The head of the Food and Agriculture Organization says it is time to put some laws in place to curb the practice.

Large global investors are grabbing up large swaths of farm-able land in Africa and Asia. Often the governments that allow this to happen are corrupt and just do it for the money. The practice decreases the amount of land used in growing food for local consumption even further. Many experts feel that land grabs are one of the leading factors causing food insecurity of poor nations.

From the Guardian. writer Mark Tran recorded the FAO director general's comments.  
José Graziano da Silva, the FAO's director general, conceded it was not possible to stop large investors buying land, but said deals in poor countries needed to be brought under control.
"I don't see that it's possible to stop it. They are private investors," said Graziano da Silva in a telephone interview. "We do not have the tools and instruments to stop big companies buying land. Land acquisitions are a reality. We can't wish them away, but we have to find a proper way of limiting them. It appears to be like the wild west and we need a sheriff and law in place."
Large land deals have accelerated since the surge in food prices in 2007-08, prompting companies and sovereign wealth funds to take steps to guarantee food supplies. But, four to five years on, in Africa only 10-15% of land is actually being developed, claimed Graziano da Silva. Some of these investments have involved the loss of jobs, as labour intensive farming is replaced by mechanised farming or some degree of loss of tenure rights.
Oxfam said the global land rush is out of control and urged the World Bank to freeze its investments in large-scale land acquisitions to send a strong signal to global investors to stop.
Graziano da Silva, who was in charge of Brazil's widely praised "zero hunger" programme, expressed his frustration at the slow pace of creating a global governance structure to deal with land grabs, food security and similar problems. In 2008, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, created a high-level task force on food security on which Graziano Da Silva serves as vice-chairman.

As for the perennial debate on the respective merits of large- and small-scale farming, the FAO boss said Africa had room for both, adding that Brazil had managed it.
"In some areas of Africa – Mozambique and South Africa – there is scope for large farms, but this approach is only valid for some grains, where the entire cycle is mechanical," he said. "But this is not suitable for fruits, vegetables or many other local products. Cassava has nothing to do with mechanised agriculture and efficiency does not mean big scale. It's the way you combine crops, the use of water you have available. In Africa today, efficiency means better seeds rather than big tractors. The two models have been there forever in agriculture. Sometimes big-scale will provide exports, but local markets are based on small-scale agriculture."

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