A couple of weeks ago I took a phone call from Christian World Service (CWS) Public Relations and Media Co-ordinator Greg Jackson. During our conversation Mr Jackson spoke about a 'land grab', something that I'd never heard of before but immediately wanted to know more about.
As soon as I'd put down the phone I punched the phrase into Google and began to trawl through the masses of articles and research. To say I was shocked and saddened by what I read would be a minor understatement.
A little bit of context
Between 2007 and 2009 the developed world suffered what would become known as 'the triple-F crisis': food, fuel and finance. Rising oil and food prices plus a global recession forced companies and nations to rethink their overseas strategies and investments.
According to a Future Agriculture policy brief entitled Land Grabbing in Africa and the New Politics of Food, "Many sought to invest in the more tangible asset of farmland, with the promise that rising demand for food and fuel would make this a secure investment in an increasingly unpredictable global system".
Therefore a land grab is a large scale land acquisition in a developing nation; this can include Africa, South America, Asia and the Pacific.
The World Bank put out a study in September 2010 which indicated that in 2009 alone 45 million hectares of land was under negotiation; 70 percent of that was in Africa. CWS research at the start of 2012 discovered that in 10 years about 200 million hectares have been grabbed in Africa and Asia; the equivalent of eight New Zealand's worth of land.
While the World Bank also reported that the Guinea Savannah region of Africa was 'one of the world's largest underused land reserves', the fact remains that many land grabs involve areas already populated or used by local small-scale farmers.
A paper presented at the International Conference on Global Land Grabbing in 2011 stated that in Kenya, "So far, 40,000 hectares have been allocated for a monoculture sugar cane plantation, and further proposed deals include 90,000 hectares for a Canadian-based biofuels company to grow jatropha carcas; 120,000 hectares to Qatar to grow food crops; and 20,000 hectares to a Canadian mining company to mine titanium, among others... More than 25,000 people living in 30 villages will be evicted from their ancestral land due to the first of these deals alone."
Land is not the only contentious issue synonymous with land grabbing. Water scarcity, land rights violations, reduced food security, forest clearance and threats to biodiversity are just a few of the added costs involved.
The Future Agriculture policy brief sums it up by saying, "What we are witnessing may well turn out to be a non-reversible corporatisation of African agriculture that will displace some of the poorest and most vulnerable citizens, undermining local food production and food security in favour of capital-intensive and labour-displacing production systems of food and other goods, mostly by foreign markets."
A helping hand this Christmas
As a foreigner in New Zealand I am constantly asked what part of England I'm from. My stock answer goes something along the lines of, "up North, near Manchester, but not Manchester". Over the past three years I've started to really embrace being a Brit and I'm proud that my land and my heritage are recognised as part of my identity. But how much more would it be so if the land I came from was more than just an identifier but the sole source of income and support for my family?
Christchurch-based international aid and development agency Christian World Service have launched their Christmas appeal, 'Save My Place'. Once they realised the scale and severity of land grabbing CWS felt they had "a moral duty to put the spotlight on land grabs amongst our Christian community who support the Christmas Appeal," says CWS national director, Pauline McKay. "With land it's amazing what people can achieve with support and knowledge. Take away that land and you have an instant recipe for poverty and failure."
For more information on land grabs and the Christmas appeal please visit christmasappeal.org.nz
Gemma Margerison is an aspiring author from the North of England. She currently works as the chief reporter for Challenge Weekly Christian newspaper in Auckland, New Zealand.
Gemma Margerison's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/gemma-margerison.html