Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels

Oxfam has launched a major new report highlighting the growing pace of land deals that are being brokered around the world, often to the peril of poor communities who lose their homes and livelihoods – sometimes violently – with no prior consultation, compensation or means of appeal.

Preliminary research shows that as many as 227 million hectares -the size of North Western Europe- have been sold, leased or licensed in large-scale land deals since 2001, mostly by international investors. Lack of transparency and the secrecy that surrounds land deals makes it difficult to get exact figures, but to date up to 1,100 of these deals amounting to 67 million hectares have been cross checked. Half of these deals are in Africa, and cover an area nearly the size of Germany (1).

In Uganda, Oxfam’s research indicates that at least 22,500 people were evicted, some forcibly, from their land and left destitute to make way for a British timber company backed by financing from the European Investment Bank (3).

Oxfam warns the international community that this land rush follows a drive to produce enough food for people overseas and to meet damaging biofuels targets, and is spurred on by speculations made on the price of land to make an easy profit.

Many of these deals are in fact ‘land grabs’ where the rights and needs of the people living on the land are ignored, leaving them homeless and without land to grow enough food to eat and make a living.

The European Union’s skewed biofuels policy is one of the drivers fuelling this modern day land rush. Indeed, the Renewable Energy Directive target of obtaining 10 percent of transport fuels from renewable sources by 2020 will require millions of hectares of developing country land on which to grow biofuels feedstocks such as palm oil or soy.

That is why Oxfam is calling on the European Commission to stop reform its biofuels policy and through there reforms, to stop encouraging the unrestrained land grabbing that is going on in poor countries

Specifically this involves the EU doing the following:

– Dropping the 10 per cent target for renewable energy in transport by 2020.

– Introducing strict social sustainability criteria for biofuels to qualify as renewable energy – ie. no adverse impact on food security, access to land and water, human rights, and ensuring that impacted communities have given their free prior and informed consent to investments in developing countries.

– Ensuring the full impact of biofuels on the environment is taken into account by adopting indirect land use change (ILUC) factors in the calculation of the greenhouse gas emission savings of each type of biofuels. (2)

Natalia Alonso, Head of Oxfam International’s EU office has summed it up nicely for us:

“The unprecedented pace of land deals and the increased competition for land is leaving many of the world’s poorest people worse off. The perverse incentives of the flawed EU biofuels policy should be scrapped. It is a scandal that thousands of families in poor countries are kicked off their land so that we in Europe can fuel our trucks and cars.”

It remains to be seen whether the EU will take heed of this urgent message.

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