Since 2000, more than 36 million hectares, an area the size of Japan, have been purchased or leased by foreign entities, mainly for agricultural purposes. Today, nearly 15 million additional hectares are under negotiation.
“Farmland is being lost or degraded on all continents, while ‘land grabbing’, the purchase or rental of farmland by foreign interests, has become a threat to food security in several countries,” writes Gary Gardner, contributing author of the Worldwatch Institute. State of the World 2015: Confronting Hidden Threats to Sustainability.
About half of the land seized is used exclusively for agriculture, while 25 percent is for a mix of agricultural and other uses. (Land that is not used for agriculture is often used for forestry.) Land grabbing has increased since 2005 in response to a food price crisis and growing demand for biofuels in the United States and the United States. the European Union. Droughts in the United States, Argentina and Australia have increased interest in land overseas.
“Today, the FAO reports that there is virtually no additional suitable (agricultural) land left in a belt around much of the middle of the planet,” Gardner writes. As a result, the biggest land grabbers are often countries that need additional resources to meet growing demands.
More than half of the land seized in the world is in Africa, especially in water-rich countries like the Congo. Asia comes second with more than 6 million hectares, mainly in Indonesia. The largest area acquired from a single country is in Papua New Guinea, with almost 4 million hectares (over 8 percent of the country’s total land cover) sold or leased.
The largest investing country is the United States, a country already rich in farmland. The United States alone has acquired about 7 million hectares worldwide. Malaysia is far behind, with just over 3.5 million hectares acquired.
Land grabbing is precipitated by growing challenges that undermine the foundations of food production: water, land and climate that make crop growth possible. Globally, some 20 percent of aquifers are pumped faster than they are recharged by precipitation, straining many key food-producing areas. Land is degraded due to erosion and salinization or is paved for development. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, climate change is expected to cause a net decline of 0.2 to 2 percent in crop yields per decade for the remainder of the century.
The dangers of land grabbing are obvious. Large-scale purchases often ignore the interests of smallholders who may have worked the land for a long time. In addition, the transfer of resources from poorer to richer countries increases the vulnerability of target countries which cede their own access to land and water resources to foreign investors and governments.
“As the demand for agricultural products increases and our planet’s water and fertile land become scarce and its atmosphere less stable, more efforts will be needed to conserve resources and exploit opportunities for greater efficiency. throughout the farming system, ”Gardner writes.