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land grabbers

November 11, 2013

The problem of land grabbing has become increasingly topical and with New Zealand making decisions about asset sales, it is immediately relevant to us. I can’t think of any fictional books where this (perhaps) more recent phenomenon is explored, but it connects closely with many colonial experiences here. I just wonder how discussion could be raised in a classroom – through which texts, in what way…. I’m just thinking, really, at the moment.

There are a few books on land grabbing and Fred Pearce (author of The Land Grabbers) describes the term/concept in this way: “Some regard the term land grabbers as pejorative. But it is widely used and the subject of academic conferences. I use it here to describe any contentious acquisition of large-scale land rights by a foreigner or other “outsider,” whatever the legal status of the transaction. It’s not all bad, but it all merits attention.” (p.viii)

5Of his investigation into land grabbing, Pearce writes that “This is not about ideology. It is about what works. What will feed the world and what will feed the world’s poorest. But what works has to do with human rights and access to natural resources, as well as maximizing tons per acre. As one agribusiness proponent, James Siggs of Toronto-based Feronia, admitted at an investment conference in 2011, “exclusively industrial-scale farming displaces and alienates peoples, creates few jobs and causes social disruption.”
Yet industrial-scale farming is what most land grabbers have in mind. According to Graham Davies, consultant to the British private equity company Altima Partners, the “vast majority” of investors in Africa are only interested in commercial Western-style agriculture, “largely ignoring” the continent’s 60 million small farms that produce 80 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s farm produce. It is important to know what agribusiness can and cannot deliver. But it is equally important to be angered by the appalling injustice of people having their ancestral land pulled from beneath their feet. And to question the arrogance and ignorance surrounding claims, by home governments and [-p.x] Western investors alike, that huge areas of Africa are “empty” lands only awaiting the magic of foreign hands and foreign capital. And to balk at the patina of virtue that often surrounds environmentalists eagerly taking other people’s land in the interests of protecting wildlife. What right do “green grabbers” have to take peasant fields and pastures to grow biofuels, cordon off rich pastures for nature conservation, shut up forests as carbon stores, and fence in wilderness as playpens and hunting grounds for rich sponsors? They are cooking up a “tragedy of the commons” in reverse.
Over the next decades I believe land grabbing will matter more, to more of the planet’s people, even than climate change. The new land rush looks increasingly like a final enclosure of the planet’s wild places, a last roundup on the global commons. Is this the inevitable cost of feeding the world and protecting its surviving wildlife? Must the world’s billion or so peasants and pastoralists give up their hinterlands in order to nourish the rest of us? Or is this a new colonialism that should be confronted – the moment when localism and communalism fight back?” (pp.ix-x)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Fred Pearce (2012) The Land Grabbers: The new fight over who owns the Earth. Beacon Press: Boston.

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