The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Editor: Countries need stronger laws on foreign land grabs

Countries in which foreigners are acquiring land on a large-scale need stronger laws to deal with land grabs, the editor of a new book titled “The Global Farms Race” said at a seminar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars last week.

Michael Kugelman

“Whether we should support them or not, large-scale land acquisitions are a reality. We should accept this reality and seek to learn more about these deals with a spirit of inquiry that steers clear of undue alarmism and Pollyanna-ism alike,” said Michael Kugelman, the author, senior program associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Wilson Center.

Derek Byerlee, a former World Bank rural strategist, wrote in a history section that the equivalent of land grabs have been going on since globalization began about 1850, and that one of the biggest was the European settlement of the Great Plains of North America.

Gary Blumenthal of World Perspectives, the author of a chapter on the investor perspective, noted that if the countries where the land acquisitions are taking place had “good governance,” they would be producing food for the countries that are buying the land.

Janet Larsen, director of research at the Earth Policy Institute, said that increasing consumption of meat, dairy products and eggs worldwide takes a lot of resources because production depends on the use of land for feed. But she also noted that the land purchases so far have not been successful enough to lead to large-scale shipments of food back to the countries that have bought the land.

Kugelman also noted that the term “land grab” “plays well in the media and as a book title,” but that in comparison with what happened in the 19th century, the land today is not being taken by violent means.

Several speakers noted that the current land acquisition phenomenon has not been going on long enough to analyze whether it is an overall positive or negative force.