Land grabs and fragile food systems: The role of globalization

Land grabs and fragile food systems: The role of globalization

IATP have consistently argued that trade agreements need to respect and promote human rights, not drive a process of globalisation that privileges commercial interests and pushes public interests aside. This paper concludes that the globalisation enshrined in the free trade and investment agreements of the 1990s and 2000s have led to yet another manifestation of commercial interests trampling human rights - namely land grabs.

This paper is specifically focuses on two forces that IATP argue have contributed significantly to the problem: First, globalisation—more specifically, the deregulation of trade and foreign investment laws, which has greatly eased cross-border capital flows, relaxed the limits on foreign land ownership, and opened markets to agricultural imports. And second, the failures of the international trading system during the food price crisis of 2007-08, which eroded the confidence of food import–dependent countries in international markets as a reliable source of food and fed both speculative investment and investment in actual food production. This loss of confidence was compounded by climate change and the resulting destabilisation of weather patterns, which has resulted in less predictable agricultural production.

Whilst investment in agriculture is welcomed the impact of land grabs has been overwhelmingly negative. They are associated with weak institutional capacity (and sometimes corruption) in the recipient country governments, as well as authoritarian governments in the investors’ home countries, making it hard to bring pressure there for better practices. The communities whose land is leased or bought are not adequately protected.

Four linked policy shifts to create a more stable and transparent international food system are needed:

  • reformed trade rules that ensure export measures are subject to transparency and predictability requirements and that allow all countries policy space for food security policies
  • publicly-managed grain reserves to dampen the effects of supply shocks
  • readily accessible funding for the poorest food importers, which would be triggered automatically when prices increase sharply in international markets
  • the development of strong national and international laws to govern investment in land, respecting the principles and guidelines set out in the Voluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure.
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