Grabbing land from the powerless has been going on for centuries. In the past it was done by conquest. The Romans stole the best land in conquered countries and enslaved the local people to work on their farms. Settlers stole land from the native Americans in America and Aborigines in Australia. European colonialists stole land from the indigenous population in Africa and elsewhere to set up their plantations. But land grabbing is still going on around the world today. This article exposes some examples and calls for justice.
Livelihood of Fishermen and Farmers in the Philippines
In the Casiguran area of the Philippines, a special economic zone has been set up. There are plans for a deep water shipping port, and the development of the tourism industry. An air strip is already under construction. All in the name of economic progress to one of the poorest provinces in the Philippines. It ought to be good news, but thousands of farmers, fishermen and indigenous people have been adversely affected. Marginalised groups’ basic rights have been violated: stripping them from the land, livelihoods and ancestral ties that they have cultivated for generations, and threatening massive environmental damage.
Several hundred fishing families have already been forced from their homes by the construction of the air strip close to the Casiguran Sound, a vital fishing ground.
The farmer in the photograph doesn’t own his own land, although he holds a lease. He is afraid that his lease won’t be renewed in 2014. This will effectively evict him and his family from the land they have farmed all their lives.
“I am afraid that they will ask us to leave, and abandon the lands that we have worked really hard on. We’re all afraid that our lands will be taken away from us, because our lands are where we get what we need for our daily necessities and the education of our children. If we don’t have our lands, our kids won’t be able to go to school.”
Sadly, this case is just one example of a wave of “land grabbing” sweeping the developing world. Every week, banks and private investors buy an area the size of London! The World Bank influences how land is bought and sold on a global scale. It has the power to step in and play a vital role in stopping land injustice. Recently the Bank has acknowledged it has a part to play in tackling land grabs. We need to encourage the World Bank to take action. Let them know the world is watching. (From an Oxfam report)
Land grabbing in Uganda
(From a report by Friends of the Earth)
Land grabbing occurs when land that was previously used by local communities is leased or sold to outside investors, including corporations and governments. Typically, the land is taken over for commodity crops to sell on the overseas market, including for agrofuel and food crops. However land grabbing also occurs to clear land for tree plantations (grown for carbon offsets), and can often result from speculative investments when funds predict a high rate of return from land investments.
Land grabbing is not a new phenomenon. For centuries, communities have been intimidated to abandon – or have been forcibly removed from – their land. However we are now witnessing a new aggressive land grab, driven by high food prices and growing global consumption, with multinational corporations, often in partnership with governments, seizing the land.
As a result, peasants, herders, fishers and rural households are being dispossessed of the means to feed themselves and their communities, local populations are being evicted and displaced, human rights are being violated, and the environment, as well as traditional community structures, is being destroyed.
In Uganda, the Government, keen to attract foreign investment, has allowed foreign companies to move onto large areas of land for a range of projects, including the development of large-scale oil palm plantations, carbon offset tree plantations and after the recent discovery of oil, for drilling.
Bugala Island in Lake Victoria
The Kalangala palm oil project on Bugala Island is being developed as part of a government programme with backing from the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Bank. Land has been grabbed in Kalangala and elsewhere and local people have lost access to the land and other natural resources.
Rural communities’ customary land rights are recognised under the Ugandan constitution, but in practice, these rights are being violated. As a result, communities are being displaced and losing vital access to natural resources, including land for farming, firewood, forest products and in some places, water supplies.
Culturally important sites have been destroyed and local traditions and customs are being lost as the local population migrates and diversifies. Forests have been cleared to make way for the plantations and wetlands have been drained, damaging the rich natural biodiversity.
The reduction in local food supply has meant more food has to be imported to the island, leading to increased food prices. As the plantation only offers low paid casual work, local people struggle to make ends meet. As a result there is a greater risk of food insecurity.
In the oil rich Albertine region, local communities are losing their land to oil companies and land speculators.
The tree plantations being developed to seek carbon credits are replacing native forest with monoculture plantations of non-native species such as eucalyptus and pine.
Land conflicts and intertribal/ethnic clashes have occurred in some communities where land grabbing has occurred. Land grabbing in Uganda is intensifying and spreading throughout the country. The development of industrial scale agriculture projects to supply global commodity markets is depriving local communities of access to natural resources, exacerbating rural poverty and aggravating the risk of food crises.
Action is needed to support the development of small-scale, agro-ecological agriculture projects, which allow local people to grow food for their communities and improve local food security.
Stealing peoples land didn’t stop at the end of the colonial era. Governments, desperate for foreign currency, and desperate to develop their countries, often run rough-shod over the lives and livelihoods of the local people. Investment so often means injustice for the powerless. Farmers who have cultivated the land for generations suddenly find themselves with no ‘legal’ right to own what is theirs.
Thousands of hard-working, but poor and powerless, people are crying out for justice as their lands are being stolen and their livelihoods shattered.
Speak up for the people who have no voice,
for the rights of all the down-and-outers.
Speak out for justice!
Stand up for the poor and destitute! (Proverbs 31; 8-9 The Message)