Contemporary Land Grabbing, Research, and Bibliography

By Jootaek Lee

Jootaek (“Juice”) Lee is a Senior Law Librarian (Research Librarian for Foreign, Comparative & International Law) and an Affiliated Faculty for the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE) at the Northeastern University School of Law. He is one of the Global Law Advisors and is coaching the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court team of the Law School. He received a B.A. from Korea University where he also received an M.A. in international law. Jootaek completed his J.D. at Florida State University, where he was also awarded M.L.S. He worked before as a librarian assistant professor at the University of Miami School of Law. He is currently teaching international and foreign legal research and advanced legal research. His research has been focusing on legal informatics, behavioral science, data and statistics, interdisciplinary and empirical research, practical pedagogy of law school education, innovation in legal practice, the evolution of the legal profession, and advancement of human rights and immigration law through empirical analysis and visualization. He published in Law Library Journal, International Journal of Legal Information, Legal Reference Services Quarterly, GlobaLex by NYU, Barry Law Review, SSRN, etc. He also made numerous presentations at national conferences. He is actively participating in the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and the American Society of International Law (ASIL). He is the former Co-Chair of International Legal Research Interest Group of ASIL (2012-2015), and the former president of Asian American Law Librarians Caucus of AALL (2013-2014). He is also a member of the Massachusetts Bar and the Florida Bar.

This research guide is based on a presentation, “Land Grabbing: Accessing Information to Protect Property Rights of Indigenous People,” given at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries, San Antonio, Texas (July 16, 2014) and its following publication at the Law Library Journal.

Published January 2016

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1. Introduction

Contemporary land grabbing often involves large-scale land acquisitions by foreign and/or nonindigenous investors. These acquisitions, in turn, cause issues such as land alienation from local communities, human rights violations, and loss of livelihoods and culture.[1] Since the early twenty-first century, investors—whether large- or small-scale, state or non-state, from developed or developing countries—have been buying large areas of land in developing countries, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa,[2] Southeast Asia, and Latin America. Between 2006 and the middle of 2009, 37 to 49 million acres of arable land were either intended (where there has been an expression of interest and where a contract is under negotiation, but not yet signed) or acquired in the developing countries by foreign investors.[3] According to Land Matrix, since 2000, land deals for agriculture have been made for about 18.5 million hectares of land, and “intended” deals for agriculture cover around 32 million hectares of land.[4]

Researching contemporary land grabbing issues is more complicated than researching those of traditional land grabbing, typically defined as occurring between the colonial period and the early twenty-first century. Research is made more difficult by the complex reasons and motivations behind contemporary land grabbing, the number of stakeholders involved, the interdisciplinary nature of research, the many different types of legal sources to search (for example, international treaties, custom, jurisprudence, soft law, and domestic statutes and customary law), lack of empirical evidence, and scattered resources in many different places. The research is a mixture of international and domestic legal research and legal and non-legal research.

In this research guide, I first investigate contemporary land grabbing and land alienation and their definitions and identify the difficulties of research. Next, I delineate various mechanisms and international principles that can be useful for protecting the rights of indigenous and local people from the attack of state and nonstate actors. Finally, I selectively review several books and articles that provide excellent starting points for contemporary land grabbing research.

2. Contemporary Land Grabbing and Its Definitions

The term “land grabbing” has been defined both broadly and narrowly, depending on the source. Policymakers, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and scholars tend to define the term narrowly and descriptively by considering only certain factors, such as land area; subjects (types of land grabbers); purpose, direction, and change of land use; relationships between the affected people and those who receive profits, and so on.[5]

However, recognizing the problems that result from a narrow definition of land grabbing, scholars and civil movements have begun to provide broader definitions. The broader the term is defined, the more comprehensively activists can address and deal with land grabbing issues. Borras et al. have suggested a new definition of contemporary land grabbing:

“[C]ontemporary land grabbing is the capturing of control of relatively vast tracts of land and other natural resources through a variety of mechanisms and forms that involve large-scale capital that often shifts resource use orientation into extractive character, whether for international or domestic purposes, as capital’s response to the convergence of food, energy and financial crises, climate change mitigation imperatives, and demands for resources from newer hubs of global capital.”[6]

3. International Principles, Mechanisms, and Movements

3.1. Recent Development of International Principles Relating to Contemporary Land Grabbing

Various global-level efforts have been made to address land grabbing issues such as food scarcity, human rights violations, and right to land. One of the major developments is the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,[7] adopted as Resolution 17/4 by the U.N. Human Rights Council on June 16, 2011.[8] The Guiding Principles emphasize the state duty to protect human rights, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and victims’ access to remedy, the so-called Protect, Respect, and Remedy Framework. The corporate responsibility to respect human rights is followed by the OECD in Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the International Organization for Standardization in the Guidance on Social Responsibility (ISO 26000), the International Finance Corporation in the Sustainability Framework and Performance Standards, and the European Commission in Communication on Corporate Social Responsibility.[9]

Another major development to address and fix the human rights protection gap[10] was made in Maastricht. A group of experts[11] in international law and human rights adopted the Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on September 28, 2011. The Maastricht Principles preamble emphasizes that the extraterritorial acts and omissions of state and nonstate actors alike threaten the human rights of people, especially their economic, social, and cultural rights. Further, these acts deprive and deny access to essential land, resources, goods, and services. The Maastricht Principles address states’ extraterritorial obligations (ETOs) and is a culmination of efforts by the human rights community starting from 1999 by the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

In 2007, the ETO Consortium was launched by NGOs and experts. This transnational network of experts is making efforts to strengthen ETOs and to counteract the negative effects of TNCs in developing countries by strengthening ETOs. It established a thematic focal group devoted to land grabbing.[12] In 2010, the World Bank, the FAO, the U.N. Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) adopted the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment that Respect Rights, Livelihoods and Resources (PRAI). The FAO separately adopted a broad land-related principle, Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance on Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security in 2012. While the Voluntary Guidelines do not directly provide, protect, and guarantee the right to land, they suggest that securing tenure rights and equitable access to land, fisheries, and forests is essential for realization of the right to adequate food.

The special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, also presented a report to the Human Rights Council, entitled Large-Scale Land Acquisitions and Leases: A Set of Minimum Principles and Measures to Address the Human Rights Challenge of Large-Scale Land Acquisitions or Leases.[13] It suggests that the human right to food cannot be realized if local people lose access to land without being provided with suitable alternatives.[14] The Minimum Principles extend the principle of free, prior, and informed consent to nonindigenous rural communities[15] and urges states to assist local communities to make collective registration of lands.[16] While the Minimum Principles suggest desirable, ethical directions to the investors and target states, they were endorsed by only a small number of states since they were presented as an annex of a special rapporteur without being discussed in depth among international actors and states. Some transnational activists criticized the Minimum Principles since they could legitimize the very practice of land grabs.[17] The biggest problem of these guidelines and principles is that they are nonbinding.

3.2. Traditional Human Rights Principles That Apply to Contemporary Land Grabbing

Many general principles drawn from human rights instruments and documents, however, do apply to state and nonstate actors and protect the rights of rural and indigenous people from land alienation.[18] The following compilation of international instruments and documents lists numerous examples.

  • United Nations Charter (1945)
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (1948)
  • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) (1965)
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (1966)
  • Limburg Principles on the Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1986)
  • Maastricht Guidelines on Violations of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1998)
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (1966)
  • Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992)
  • United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007)
  • Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (1989)

3.3. Global Institutionalized Systematic Mechanisms and Movements to Protect the Land Rights of Indigenous People

Various intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been working to protect indigenous people’s right to land. IGOs working on this issue include the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), the U.N. Human Rights Council through the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Working Group on Indigenous Population, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People, the Office of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the Organization of American States (OAS),[19] the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights: Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa,[20] the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP),[21] and the International Labor Organizations (ILO). NGOs include the Assembly of First Nations, the World Council of Indigenous Peoples, and Survival International.

Until 2007, however, few global, institutionalized systematic mechanisms were available to protect the land rights of local and rural people and minorities who cannot be included under the category of indigenous people. As mentioned above, in 2007, the ETO Consortium was launched by NGOs and experts. The World Bank, the FAO, the UNCTAD, and the IFAD also collaborated on contemporary land grabbing issues and adopted the PRAI and the Voluntary Guidelines, even though they are merely recommendations. FAO sees land grabbing as an emerging issue and devotes a webpage to it with the title of Foreign Investments in Agriculture for Food Security.

The U.N. Committee on World Food Security (CFS)[22] and the World Food Programme may be good starting points to approach land grabbing issues based on the right food and food security policies. The final report of the 40th Session of the CFS notes the multiple and complex relationships between biofuels and food security, dynamic and complex food prices affected by the production and consumption of biofuels, and competition between biofuel crops and food crops due to current biofuel production. The report asks states to add to existing guidelines, to minimize the risks and maximize the opportunities of biofuels in relation to food security.[23] The report also invites the FAO to propose a program of work considering food security concerns and legitimate land tenure rights.[24] Furthermore, the report tells members to “strongly promote responsible governance of land and natural resources with emphasis on securing access and tenure for smallholders, particularly women, in accordance with the Voluntary Guidelines.”[25]

International agrarian movements such as La Vía Campesina and International Land Coalition, and NGOs such as GRAIN and FIAN, are also striving to solve the issue of agrarian land alienation of local and rural communities and to protect their access to land and water. These organizations scrutinize investors and lenders, especially by leveraging reputational risk, and make investors and lenders pressure agribusiness companies and local enterprise to protect local people’s land rights.[26] Furthermore, they suggest alternatives to large land deals and help to facilitate “constructive dialogue” with investors, lenders, agribusiness companies, governments, and federations of rural producer organizations on how these alternatives could be upscaled.[27] The following international movements, coalitions, and NGOs[28] are actively working on resolving contemporary land grabbing issues, and their websites are excellent sources for cutting-edge information and empirical data.

4. Selected Treatises, Articles, and Reports

Since the 2007–2008 world food crisis, plenty of literature on contemporary land grabbing has been created. Several comprehensive land grabbing books[29] have been published. IGOs such as FAO, NGOs such as GRAIN[30] and FIAN,[31] consortiums such as the ILC, and research institutes such as the IFPRI have produced numerous reports and articles relating to contemporary land grabbing issues. Scores of scholarly articles also have been published, mainly in the Journal of Peasant Studies, the Journal of Agrarian Change, the Journal of Development Studies, and the Third World Quarterly. What follows is a selectively reviewed list of books, articles, and reports with annotations, which will provide great starting points for contemporary land grabbing research.

4.1. Selected Treatises

  • Brown, Lester R. Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012.

This book is a product of the Earth Policy Institute research team to raise public understanding of the recent challenges relating to food, including world food shortages and food price spikes since 2007, and to call for actions of political leaders and new policies to reduce hunger. It vividly draws the map of world food crisis with detailed explanations on the ecology of population growth, the food chain, selection between food and fuel, eroding soils, water scarcity, environmental change, and increased production of soybeans with historical backgrounds. Notably, chapter 10 deals with the global land rush, recognizing that this new global land rush since 2007 focuses more on basic food and feed crops such as wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans, and on biofuels. Land acquisitions are also seen as “lucrative investment opportunity” (105). While the author notes the difficulty of acquiring accurate information and data on land deals, he strives to grasp and describe in detail the contemporary land grabbing rushes by countries and explain the resulting effects on local people, human rights violations, and political instability.

  • Fabricant, Nicole. Mobilizing Bolivia’s Displaced: Indigenous Politics and the Struggle over Land. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.

This book provides realistic solutions for new land grabbing issues raised by the liberalization of trade, international investment in export-oriented agriculture such as soy for biofuels, and indecisive legal reforms and lack of implementation in Bolivia. It provides a history of resource struggles with vivid stories from the author traveling across the country, participating in various demonstrations and activities against Bolivian government projects threatening the life of local communities. The author identifies new forms of displacement and socioeconomic dispossessions and analyzes issues and causes behind the current problems. Finally, the author emphasizes the importance of movements such as the landless peasant movement—called MST—and the new social projects and political practices of the left and their connection to the state. Recognizing the importance of economic and ecological transformation and culture as a shield, the author asks for the state’s centralized and strong role to create “a truly redistributive and protectionist agenda and the power to reroute transnational capital” (200).

  • Liberti, Stefano. Land Grabbing: Journeys in the New Colonialism. New York: Verso, 2013.

This book updates Liberti’s previous version, published in 2010. The author traces the causes of land grabbing starting from 2008, examines the FAO guidelines, and offers predictions about future developments. The author provides many qualitative empirical data collected on the ground, including observatory notes from meetings and interview scripts. The book provides novel-like narratives of land grabbing, from Ethiopia’s agrofuel greenhouses to land grabbing in Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Rome, Geneva, and Tanzania to Chicago’s stock market and Iowa’s ethanol factories.

  • Margulis, Matias E., Nora McKeon, and Saturnino M. Borras, eds. Land Grabbing and Global Governance. New York: Routledge, 2014.

This book is part of a series titled Rethinking Globalizations, which covers various issues of globalization. The book itself tries to capture a distinct historical event of contemporary land grabbing, closely tied to the changing dynamics of the global agrifood, feed, and fuel complexes. In this collected work, contributors theorize land grabbing and identify transnational actors under emerging global land governance. The final chapter reviews several recent instruments relating to global land governance. Chapters 7 and 12 deal with human rights issue relating to land grabbing.

  • Mowforth, Martin. The Violence of Development: Resource Depletion, Environmental Crises and Human Rights Abuses in Central America. London: Pluto Press, 2014.

This book deals with the difference between the theory and practice of development mainly in Central America. Various topics such as food, water, energy, mining, deforestation and reforestation industrialization, indigenous groups, and violence of development are dealt with in depth, relating to the benefits of development. Figures, tables, and boxes summarize land grabbing research such as change in forest cover, number of organic farms, population with access to improved drinking water sources, and population estimates of indigenous groups in Central America and elsewhere from 1990 to 2010. The chapter entitled “Indigenous Groups: The Fourth World Fights Back” succinctly explains and offers examples of land disputes and encroachments on indigenous territories in Central America.

  • NGO Forum on Cambodia. Land Alienation in Indigenous Minority Communities, Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia. Somerset, NJ: Transaction, 2006.

This pamphlet-format report updates a report titled Land Alienated from Indigenous Minority Communities in Ratanakiri. This report analyzes land alienation from indigenous communities in the Ratanakiri province in the northeast of Cambodia. The report concerns the illegality of the vast majority of land sales in Ratanakiri, which is mainly caused by a lack of law enforcement. Some communities have been disintegrated to the extent that cultural and social resources are severely lost. To make things worse, community councils and higher levels of government acquiesce to these sales. The report recommends strict enforcement of the 2001 Land Law, suggesting that the government of Cambodia needs to declare a moratorium on land sales affecting indigenous people. The report redefines “land alienation” to include loss of land that is accompanied by “a sense of powerlessness and alienation within indigenous communities” (8). The report also includes graphic maps showing change in land alienation between 2004 and 2006, charts of the impacts of land alienation, and case studies for each indigenous community in the Ratanakiri province.

4.2. Selected Articles and Reports

  • Behrman, Julia, Ruth Meinzen-Dick, and Agnes Quisumbing. “The Gender Implications of Large-Scale Land Deals.” Journal of Peasant Studies 39, no. 1 (2012): 49–79.

The authors approach land grabbing with a new domestic perspective based on gender equality. They comprehensively overview each phase of large-scale land deals—preexisting situation, consultation and negotiation, contracts and compensation, implementation and changes in production structure, and enforceability—and its varying gender implications. They also show two case studies in two different countries in South East Asia and Africa—a Hibun Dayak community in Sanggau District, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, and a community in the Maputo Province of Mozambique—illustrating different forms of large-scale land deals and different ways women are affected. They conclude that without taking into account local gender implications, investments will, at best, perpetuate existing gender inequalities and, at worst, contribute to increased levels of resource scarcity, poverty, and conflict. While the article directly applies international principles to current gender inequality phenomena, it emphasizes the role for the international research community to play. It also recognizes the lack of empirical evidence on the differential effects that land grabbing has on men and women. Finally, the authors emphasize the role of effective government enforcement to ensure that land deals lead to greater gender equality.

  • Borras, Saturnino M., Jr., Jennifer C. Franco, Sergio Gómez, Cristóbal Kay, and Maz Spoor. “Land Grabbing in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Journal of Peasant Studies 39, Nos. 3–4 (2012): 845–72.

This article analyzes the land grabbing that has occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean based on the FAO studies in seventeen countries. The authors suggest four factors driving land grabbing in the region: production for food security, biofuels, climate change mitigation strategies, and the dynamics of global capital reconfiguration and emerging accumulation imperatives and strategies. They also suggest that land grabbing occurring in this region is unique in that it is wider than previously assumed; is not completely centered on food, land, or new global food regime players; and is intra-regional in character. The article criticizes previous definitions of land grabbing which can explain land grabbing in only two countries—Argentina and Brazil—and suggests a new broader definition. The article provides useful tables with qualitative empirical evidence relating to contexts and extent of land grabbing in Latin America and identify state and capital actors in intraregional land grabbing and its dynamics.

This report was prepared for the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter. It provides four case studies of Tanzania, Sudan, Pakistan, and Mali, and Mali is introduced as a best-practice case. Admitting the necessity of investment in agriculture in developing countries, the report asks critical questions: what types of investment are needed, for the benefit of whom, and with what impacts on rural poverty and rural development? The authors pay attention to the gap between investment commitments made on paper and their effective implementation. The book also deals with local governments’ dilemmas and choices as they consider channeling investment into their rural societies, the opportunity costs involved, and the surrounding regulatory frameworks.

  • Cotula, Lorenzo, and Emma Blackmore. Understanding Agricultural Investment Chains: Lessons to Improve Governance. London: IIED, 2014.

This report, funded by the FAO, IIED, and the UK Department for International Development, analyzes an “investment chain,” a complex web of multiple parties relating to land transactions in three different phases of money flow—“upstream” for project financiers, “midstream” for the enterprise that leads project implementation, and “downstream” for various contractors and suppliers (1). The report supplements the Voluntary Guidelines by the FAO and provides a solution to implement the Voluntary Guidelines, ensuring that investments are balanced with development. Particularly, the report strives to identify various “pressure points” where “public action can influence the behavior of actors or the nature of relations between those actors” (2–3) to make an effective implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines, which includes action to improve land deals, restrict or cancel such deals, or promote alternative models of agricultural investment. The authors suggest that “midstream” relations provide significant pressure points for public action where strong rights to land and natural resources can be provided to local communities with “robust local consultation and consent requirements and with rigorous and transparent impact assessment process.”[32] They also suggest that “upstream” relations within the corporate structure can also be significant pressure points for public actions, and lenders and investors can have significant leverage over the local enterprise. Finally, they suggest that to effectively implement the Voluntary Guidelines, public actions are needed at multiple pressure points together with alliances between stakeholders. The report is based on ten case studies of recent large-scale land deals in Brazil, Cambodia, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Laos, Liberia, Mali (two), and Sierra Leone.

This early report analyzes land grabbing issues, suggests implications and potential consequences of land grabbing, stimulates the discussion of land grabbing issues, and draws attention to the actors. It examines the roles of IFIs[33] and criticizes their “win-win” arguments that simplify and fail to solve the contemporary land grabbing issues by commercial land acquisitions and fail to secure food supply for poor and vulnerable populations.[34] The report contains case studies and data from Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, and provides an appendix table showing thirty-two countries in crisis that require external assistance.

  • Edelman, Marc. “Messy Hectares: Questions about the Epistemology of Land Grabbing Data.” Journal of Peasant Studies 40, no. 3 (2013): 485–501.

Edelman discusses the conundrum of relying on hectare-centric data in the analysis of contemporary land grabbing. He suggests that current land grabbing data do not accurately reflect what is occurring on the ground, not only including preliminary, unverified, and faulty data such as unimplemented land deals, but also epistemologically failing to reflect the levels of capitalization into the land, the availability of water, and social impacts. The author further emphasizes the danger of using quantitative hectare-centric analysis of land grabbing because it ultimately weakens the arguments of activists due to the incredibility of quantitative evidence and finally suggests the necessity of case studies. He emphasizes the responsibility of social scientists or historians to explain the existence of the sources they use.

Like other nonprofit organizations, GRAIN needs strategies to cope with new financial environments that limit funding and cause the organization financial problems. This report recommends highly visible GRAIN’s online presence, its effective communications, and close and mutually respectful relations with grassroots organizations—particularly in Africa—and strategic communications strategies and policies that prioritize reaching out to the media and new audiences, including social media. It also suggests that for GRAIN to remain sustainable as a small organization, it should hire dedicated fund-raising personnel and diversify its sources of funding, including from individual users, thus emphasizing new generations and supporters of GRAIN’s work.

  • Feintrenie, Laurène. “Agro-industrial Plantations in Central Africa, Risks and Opportunities.” Biodiversity Conservation 23 (2014): 1577–89.

This article empirically analyzes large-scale land investments by transnational corporations in four countries: Cameroon, Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Republic of Congo. The article shows the recent increase of large-scale land acquisitions in Central Africa since 2000, mainly due to the relative political stability in the region. The report contains figures and tables to show the amount of acquired lands, historical trends, major investors, and compulsory procedures for industrial plantations in Central Africa. Instead of focusing on land alienation from the perspective of indigenous people, Feintrenie focuses on multinational corporations, showing the appropriate, transparent ways of investments such as constant, regular environmental and social impact assessments, and signature of free, prior, and informed consent.

This report notes that rural peoples’ access to land is under attack everywhere, emphasizing that their land and territories are their “backbone of their identities, their cultural landscape and their source of well-being” (2). It identifies the limitations (and irony attached) to recent data prepared and cited by the FAO and UN agencies that state family farms manage most of the world’s arable land. The report concludes that (1) farms are getting smaller; (2) small farms are less than a quarter of the world’s farmland; (3) big farms are getting bigger; (4) small farms are still major food producers in the world; (5) small farms are overall more productive than big farms; and (6) most small farmers are female. The report includes an interactive map visualizing the number of small farms and percentage of agricultural land in the hands of small farmers; tables showing global distribution of agricultural land; a list of countries that are losing farms, concentrating land, or where more than seventy percent of farms are small yet control less than ten percent of domestic agricultural land; and charts showing the global encroachment of the industrial crops of soybeans, rapeseed, sugar cane, and oil palm. The report finally indicates the difficulty of gathering and analyzing data on land distribution and food production because data are often patchy, slanted, or influenced by the politics, and classification criteria and definitions are highly variable. The report mainly relies on government data and data provided by FAOSTAT and research papers.

This October 2008 report drew the first attention to the contemporary land grab issue, recognizing two unique drivers of contemporary land grabbing: seeking food security for the world food crisis and a new source of profit for the world financial crisis. China, India, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates are identified and examined as the food security seekers. Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Black Rock Inc., Morgan Stanley, Black Earth Farming, and Landkom are identified as investors for farmland in poor countries. It suggests that contemporary land grabbing is restructuring the local communities and society, transforming them from small farms or forests into large industrial estates for foreign markets that remove the hope of local farmers to return to their lands.

This report deals with the issue of Africa’s sophisticated water management systems that were destroyed by contemporary land grabbing. It indicates countries such as Saudi Arabia and India, which lack water for food production, are attacking the African lands, advocating that water is abundant in Africa even though it is not true. In addition, large-scale land deals consume massive amounts of water, threatening the life of local farmers, pastoralists, and other rural communities. The report introduces a graphic and a table showing how the lands near the Nile were given to foreign investors, the numbers of irrigation potential, the numbers already irrigated and leased out since 2006, and surplus/deficit relating to the Nile basin. The report emphasizes that the land grabs and the accompanied water grabs do not help to reduce hunger and poverty; rather they represent “theft on a grand scale of the very resources—land and water—which the people and communities of Africa must themselves be able to manage and control” (18).

5. Conclusion

The lack of understanding on issues relating to contemporary land grabbing among investors, lenders and agribusiness companies, and governments in investing countries has worsened problems relating to contemporary land grabbing, even though these powerful actors control many elements of contemporary land grabs. Comprehensive and effective research based on both quantitative and qualitative empirical evidence, contextually explains the contemporary land grabbing issues in a specific time and place, and also reflects various international legal principles and mechanisms. The research can help all parties better understand various aspects of large-scale land deals and their accompanying problems.

Other fruitful areas of research would include relevant legal and social science theories, such as the right to dignity, which can support the arguments of land grabbing movements and activists. Furthermore, alternative solutions and strategies to industrial agriculture and corporate-controlled food systems could be analyzed and suggested resources given. Various examples and models of agro-ecological and bio-diverse family farming, which can ensure food sovereignty of local and indigenous peoples, could also be useful additions to the dialogue.[35]

[1] See Dynamics Overview: Intention of Investment, Land Matrix,; Seized: The 2008 Land Grab for Food and Financial Security, Grain (Oct. 24, 2008),

[2] According to Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates, there are 400 million hectares of available land—land with less than twenty-five people per square kilometer—of which 202 million can be found in Sub-Saharan Africa. Stefano Liberti, Land Grabbing: Journeys in the New Colonialism 91 (2013). Two-thirds of the Sub-Saharan African land deals are made in Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Sudan, and Zambia. See Lester R. Brown, Full Planet, Empty Plates 104 (2012).

[3] See Shepard Daniel & Anuradha Mittal, The Great Land Grab: Rush for World’s Farmland Threatens Food Security for the Poor 1 (2009),; see also Land Grabs Leave Africa Thirsty, Grain (Feb. 15, 2012),

[4] See Dynamics Overview, supra note 1.

[5] Rolf Künnemann & Sofía M. Suárez, International Human Rights and Governing Land Grabbing: A View from Global Civil Society, in Land Grabbing and Global Governance 128 (Matias E. Margulis et al. eds., 2014); see also Saturnino M. Borras Jr. & Jennifer C. Franco, A Land Sovereignty Alternative? Towards a People’s Counter-Enclosure (2012), available at; Saturnino M. Borras Jr. & Jennifer C. Franco, Global Land Grabbing and Trajectories of Agrarian Change: A Preliminary Analysis, 12 J. Agrarian Change 34–59 (2012); Tirana Declaration, Int’l Land Coal (May 2011),; Seized, supra note 1.

[6] Id. at 851.

[7] Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises, Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework, U.N. Human Rights Council, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/17/31 (Mar. 21, 2011) (by John Ruggie).

[8] The Special Representative, John Ruggie, started an investigation in 2005 and annexed the Guiding Principles to his final report to the Human Rights Council. Id. They were later endorsed by the Human Rights Council in its Resolution 17/4 of June 16, 2011. See Shift,

[9] Id.

[10] The gaps include:

the lack of human rights regulation and accountability of transnational corporations (TNCs)

the absence of human rights accountability of Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs), in particular international financial institutions (IFIs)

the ineffective application of human rights law to investment and trade laws, policies and disputes

the lack of implementation of duties to protect and fulfil ESCRs abroad, inter alia through the obligations of international cooperation and assistance

[11] Forty experts include current and former members of international human rights treaty bodies, regional human rights bodies, and special rapporteurs of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

[12] It recognizes a global process where foreign TNCs and states conclude agreements with target countries to take control of lands, threatening a self-determined life of local and indigenous people. See ETOs for Human Rights Beyond Borders,

[13] Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Addendum: Large-Scale Land Acquisitions and Leases: A Set of Minimum Principles and Measures to Address the Human Rights Challenge, Human Rights Council, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/13/33/Add.2 (Dec. 28, 2009) (by Olivier De Schutter).

[14] Id. at ¶ 4.

[15] Id. Annex, principle 2.

[16] Id. Annex, principle 3.

[17] Prischilla Claeys & Gaëtan Vanloqueren, The Minimum Human Rights Principles Applicable to Large-Scale Land Acquisitions or Leases, in Land Grabbing and Global Governance at 193, 196.

[18] Even in 2009, it was unclear that existing national laws and international standards were sufficient to regulate this emerging phenomenon of land grabbing; some scholars viewed this land grabbing as a “simple resurgence of investments typical of the colonial era.” Id. at 193.

[19] The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) approved the Proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and it also approved a report titled The Human Rights Situation of the Indigenous People in the Americas. Inter-Am. Comm’n on Human Rights, Org. of Am. States, Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People,

[20] Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa, African Comm’n on Human & Peoples’ Rights,

[21] The AIPP is a regional organization founded in 1988. As of 2014, there are 47 members from 14 countries in Asia with 14 National Formations, 15 Sub-national Formations, and 18 Local Formations. See; see also Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, Overview of the State of Indigenous Peoples in Asia (May 2014),

[22] The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is an intergovernmental body providing a forum for food security policies. It also created the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) in 2009 to provide expert advice. Comm. on World Food Sec.,

[23] These include the CFS Global Strategic Framework for Food Security and Nutrition (GSF); the Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT); the Voluntary Guidelines for the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security (RtF); The Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP) Sustainability Indicators for Bioenergy and FAO Bioenergy and Food Security (BEFS). Id.

[24] Id. at ¶ 22.

[25] Id. at ¶ 41.

[26] Cotula & Blackmore at 72–73.

[27] Id. at 73. They sometimes raise transnational litigation for corporate accountability and leverage opportunities provided by international trade arrangements. Id. at 78.

[28] Here, general international human rights and environmental NGOs (e.g., Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, Oxfam) are not dealt in this article while they are also vigorously working on the contemporary land grabbing issues.

[29] See, e.g., Land Grabbing and Global Governance, 20; Liberti.

[30] See, e.g., Dynamics Overview, Grain, supra note 1.

[31] See, e.g., Künnemann & Suárez at 128.

[32] Midstream pressure points also include actions such as regulation of land acquisition by foreign investors and capacity support for governments to govern investment processes effectively, and for communities to analyze, deliberate and negotiation. Cotula & Blackmore at 4.

[33] “The IFC and FIAs are employing a number of methods to assist investors to overcome obstacles that inhibit investment in foreign land markets.” Daniel & Mittal at 7.

[34] “Commercial land deals are coming into direct conflict with land reform efforts in many developing countries.” Id. at 14.

[35] See Göran Eklöf, Joan Baxter & Alberto Villareal, Evaluation of GRAIN’s Work on Land Grabbing: Executive Summary and Recommendations, June 2012,