International land grab for national resources & implications for Sri Lanka
Posted on December 6th, 2022

Shenali D Waduge

Land grabbing is taking place at national / regional & global scales. Large-scale land deals/transactions are taking place by transnational corporations or initiated by foreign governments. One of the major reasons for escalation of land grab is the global economic/political and dwindling resources tied to structural reforms promoted by IMF/WB & this is tied to an impending food/water crisis. Global food prices are increasing, food production is in demand & this means those who own the land are at a commanding role – even to decide what will get grown & how (GMO food crops, chemical fertilizers will all end up reducing lifespan or increase disease providing profit to Big Pharma. Land thus, holds the key to control the world & its resources. Land in South America, Asia, Africa are on the shopping list.

Land grab is often overlooked by governments & policy advisors as opportunities for economic development ignoring the long term repercussions. Governments ignore the long term issues primarily because they are concerned only to last until their term of office. Any dangers thereafter, they regard as an opportunity to use as election slogans for next elections. These petty tactics are now outdated. Companies are smarter than they were.

Foreign land grab are also to ‘grab’ food & energy security for themselves & deprive developing nations of self-sustainability – in 2008 Madagascar Govt gave South Korean Daewoo Logistics 1.3million hectares of land to produce corn & oil palm for export & was cancelled due to protests. In 2005 British New Forests Company was given 22,000 hectares of land in Uganda but by 2010, more than 22,000 Ugandans got evicted from their lands. Sri Lanka ignores these dangers.

Today a common phenomenon is that while the poor wish to protect the land, the elite locals wish to siphon land from the poor & barter it to foreign land grabbers at a higher rate. With elite links to political framework, no remedial actions to counter land grab & sale is happening. These unethical land grabs & sales are ruining the environment & displacing people.

Food & water scarcity is making foreign companies/local companies & foreign governments attempt to grab land & dictate its usage & price.

Land grabbing via digitalization is the newest norm. High-tech digital technique has to be backed by traditional ground surveys as land grabbers & agribusiness companies are fraudulently obtaining deeds & depriving traditional communities of ancestral lands. World Bank is funding georeferencing (digital mapping) process & enabling international financial sector to play key role in converting large tracts of rainforest into agribusiness lands. This is land theft. The government has to take greater responsibility for land registration. Georeferencing is a registration that is alien to peasants, farmers, fisherfolk & forest communities & these people lack land deeds & face institutional barriers when trying to register their ancestral occupied lands, while in Sri Lanka where peasants/farmers live on state leased land, the funding agencies & foreign governments are luring the government to grant full title ownership in order to buy the land directly from these farmers. Where are they going to live or what is their livelihood going to be is not even considered.

The new cadastral registration systems are profitable for companies as they are immediately aware of unclaimed” land and they can gain legal titles to them.

Governments are at fault for introducing land regularization programs issuing individual property titles (ex: Bim Saviya), they should first get back public & private lands unfairly given to land grabbers. Instead of doing this, governments are proceeding with privatization of public land completely ignoring national agrarian reform policies & self-sustainability by bowing their heads to international monetary agencies who give loans based on the land/resources that countries are ready to give up.

Population growth is increasing demand for food & water & this is impacting land & water resources. Land related deals globally have increased since 2005. In 2010 World Bank estimated 45m hectares has been acquired since 2008 with deals” with limited consultation & kept secret from locals.

The 2011 Tirana Conference of the International Land Coalition defined land grabbing as land acquisition in violation of human rights. Land grabbing is a new form of colonialism. With land grab, grabbing water becomes essential – so freshwater resources, including rainwater & irrigation water is also under threat. Why would UN agencies, NGOs/INGOs be so interested in water of developing nations & why would corrupt local businesses also run charity” programs also around water” – all are pretending to do charity” with ulterior motives.

Landgrab in Sudan means grabbing access to Blue Nile. With local communities denied land to grow, they are dependent on international food subsidies and food aid and this invariably results in the import of food items closing expiry date or unwanted in the developed world.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences cite 62 countries victim of 42 grabbers with Africa accounting for 47% & Asia accounting for 33% of global grabbed land. About 90% grabbed land is in 24 countries. https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1213163110#t01

There is a false notion that there is enough land for investment & that foreign investors should be given land to generate income & jobs for developing nations. World Bank & IMF are both guilty of promoting this notion. The other false notion is that agriculture needs foreign investment and corporate control. The reality is that the bulk investment in agriculture is undertaken by farmers with small holder farmers producing most of the food consumed locally. The next false notion is that large-scale land deals answer food & oil scarcity. The reality is that there is more than enough food in the system but costs, loss of harvest, waste & diversion of land for non-food industrial products are the cause for shortages. Whether these are done intentionally, is another question. However, no one is addressing the wastage in the supply chain & solving it. Land to create commercial & cosmetic products should be nullified. Land should only be used for self-sustenance. Land used for industrial agriculture/livestock cause greenhouse gases & further contribute to destroying the environment.

The next false notion is that land security is achieved via property rights implying that a paper ownership is the norm paving way for fraudsters to quickly grab land that had hereto being used as ancestral lands sans paper documents. The security applies only to land grabbers.

The International Criminal Court in the Hague has included land grabbing & environmental destruction within its mandate & a violations as a crime against humanity. This will have major implications for private sector, agriculture & mining companies. Legal claims related to land grabbing have been made against British & European companies operating in Cambodia.

Sri Lanka must protect its arable lands & use arable lands for agriculture only. These should not be compromised for industrial/factory compounds or to grow any foods like corn which destroys the environment plus is used to eventually prepare high-fructos corn syrup which increases diabetes and fatty liver. When international agencies, local private companies, research agencies start shopping to see the food resources and water resources of a nation claiming to do research” – what they are doing is to find out how they can grab these resources, the communities that live within the parameters, how they can be relocated or removed and how they can influence politicians and public officials to partake of state resources & hand over to them, after which they dictate the price, the quantity, the quality and who gets what.

People do not elect governments to have them outsource what they are elected to do. This is a constitutional violation. Partnering with parties is condition to maintaining ownership of state resources & assets & having the final say in its use or distribution. These clauses must be clearly inserted into any deals even if entities like WB/IMF insist on liberalization and privatization of these assets/resources.

What Sri Lanka & the developing world & its sleeping policy makers/advisors need to wake up to is that land, food & resources are the topics at the G20 Bali meeting, UN Agenda 2030 COP27 in Egypt & World Economic Forum where all the world’s visible & invisible decision makers meet. Land & resource grab will lead to not only famine & death but to the question if such an outcome is being planned. All of their ulterior motives are camouflaged in fancy terms and gullible statements – what do they really mean by inclusive, predictable & non-discriminatory rules-based agriculture trade based on WTO rules”. Who will control the innovative practices & technologies & digital innovations in agriculture & food systems”. How can sustainable agriculture” be achieved with net zero greenhouse gas emissions”. These UN mumbo jumbo are all eyewashes using the word sustainable agriculture” to destroy farming & agriculture globally. COP27 launched Food & Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation (FAST) – its aim is to shift towards sustainable, climate-resilient, healthy diets that would reduce climate change costs up to $1.3trillion- what are they really hiding behind these words which leaders of developing nations are unlikely to understand!

For starters a government must consider adopting restrictions to land ownership by nations/firms & control unlimited land foreignization.

Shenali D Waduge

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