Fred Pearce's "The Land Grabbers"

Fred Pearce's new book, "The Land Grabbers: The New Fight Over Who Owns The Earth", unearths the truth about international land purchasing.

| May 29, 2012

  • Land_Fotolia_xbrchx
    Land grabbing has increased exponentially over the past few years, endangering natural peoples and the environment. Fred Pearce explores why this phonomenon happens and who is behind the damage in "Land Grabbers: The New Fight Over Who Owns The Earth."

  • Land_Fotolia_xbrchx

Across the globe countries are feeling the strain of a changing, globalized world. Population growth, global warming, water shortages, and a depletion of natural resources have prompted a sharp rise in international land purchases, with buyers looking to safeguard their own future food and energy security, and sellers are searching for prosperity during difficult times. In once self-reliant cities and villages, government agencies are selling off acreage to industrial agribusiness moguls who swoop in, seize land, and grow crops destined for consumption across the sea. In The Land Grabbers: The New Fight over Who Owns the Earth, renowned science writer Fred Pearce unearths the truth about who is buying up all the land, who is profiting from the sale, and what is to become of the native dwellers in these so-called uninhabited areas.

As Pearce discusses, the act of land grabbing is not a new phenomenon, but in recent years the practice has grown exponentially. Though there is no central register, it is estimated that as many as 560 million acres of land have been “grabbed” worldwide. “Soaring grain prices and fears about future food supplies are triggering a global land grab,” writes Pearce. “Gulf sheiks, Chinese state corporations, Wall Street speculators, Russian oligarchs, Indian microchip billionaires, doomsday fatalists, Midwestern missionaries, and City of London hedge fund slickers are scouring the globe for cheap land to feed their people, their bottom lines, or their consciences.” Questioning why so many leaders are selling off their own lands, despite risks to their people, Pearce concludes, “some want to save their nations from a coming ‘perfect storm’ of rising population, changing diets, and climate change. Others look forward to making a killing as the storm hits.”

While researching the book, Pearce spent a year circling the globe, interviewing the various players including foreign investors, local government officials, displaced farmers, environmental experts, and Western industrialists. What he discovered time and time again was that there were a few key motivators are behind nearly all of the land grabbing operations, including:

•      Water – Availability and access to water is one of the major constraints for industrial agriculture, and many in-demand crops, such as sugar, require a substantial amount in order to grow. Countries without water are looking to obtain it, and countries with water are looking to profit from it. Egypt is securing food supplies by accessing well-irrigated land in neighboring countries, like South Sudan, and attempting to modify irrigation routes from the wetlands in order to supply themselves with additional water. In Mali, on the fringes of the Sahara, the government aims to bring prosperity to the country by allowing foreigners to lease land, but the cost of irrigating the new farm land runs the risk of drying out the already fragile wetlands and destroying the local communities currently surviving off the land.

•      Biofuels – The need for fuel is increasing alongside a push to find greener energy sources. As a result, various crops, including corn, soy, sugar, and palm oil, are all being cultivated by industrialized countries on foreign soil for use in the biofuel industry. But even with the vast amounts of money being invested, in places like Mozambique, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Ukraine, biofuel deals have fallen apart and left destruction behind. “This is one of the problems when the corporate and financial worlds move in on the peasant world,” writes Pearce. “If things go wrong, they can move on and make their profits elsewhere.”

•      Food fears – Beginning in 2007, low yields and rising prices instilled fears of long-term food shortages internationally, driving countries to hoard crops, further affecting the availability and cost of imported goods. With the additional stress of many crops being earmarked for use as biofuels, the global community has seen an 80% rise in the cost of the world’s food prices over the last five years.  When corporations such as Goldman Sachs started investing in food futures and agricultural commodity funds, prices were forced up even further. The result has been countries like South Korea, which currently imports 90% of its wheat and corn, establishing a National Food Strategy to subsidize local corporations willing to annex foreign land to secure essential provisions.  Meanwhile, some of the wealthiest countries, like Saudi Arabia, are buying up huge swaths of land in Africa for food production intended to provide Saudi food security in the future.

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