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Global land prices double in 15yrs, threatening food production, study warns

Soaring land prices, land grabs, and carbon schemes are creating an unprecedented “land squeeze”, threatening farmers and food production, reveals a comprehensive new report released on Monday, May 13, 2024, by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food).

Susan Chomba
Susan Chomba, IPES-Food expert

The report comes as land issues rise up the global agenda – with the World Bank holding a conference on “Securing Land Tenure and Access for Climate Action” in Washington DC this week, a recent World Bank report on net-zero in food systems calling for measures to reduce the conversion of forests to croplands, and as Brazil launches an agrarian reform policy “Terra da Gente” to allocate land for 295,000 families by 2026.

The study exposes the alarming escalation of land grabbing in various forms, including through “green grabs”, opaque financial instruments and speculation, rapid resource extraction, and intensive export crop production. Land around twice the size of Germany has been snatched up in transnational deals worldwide since 2000.

Major new pressures are emerging from “green grabs” for carbon and biodiversity offset projects, conservation initiatives, and clean fuels, the report highlights. Huge swathes of farmland are being acquired by governments and corporations for these “green grabs” – which now account for 20% of large-scale land deals – despite little evidence of climate benefits. Governments’ pledges for land-based carbon removals alone add up to almost 1.2 billion hectares, equivalent to total global cropland. Carbon offset markets are expected to quadruple in the next seven years.

This global trend of land grabs and green grabs is particularly affecting sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, while land inequality is growing fastest in Central-Eastern Europe, North and Latin America, and South Asia. Shockingly, 70% of the world’s farmland is now controlled by just 1% of the world’s largest farms.

As demand for land continues unchecked, the panel of experts says the “land squeeze” is inflaming land inequality and making small and medium scale food production increasingly unviable – leading to farmer revolts, rural exodus, rural poverty and food insecurity. With global farmland prices doubling in 15 years, farmers, peasants, and Indigenous peoples are losing their land (or forced to downsize), while young farmers face significant barriers in accessing land to farm.

IPES-Food calls for action to:

  • Halt green grabs and remove speculative investment from land markets;
  • Establish integrated governance for land, environment and food systems to ensure a just transition;
  • Support collective ownership and innovative financing for farmers to access land; and,
  • Forge a new deal for farmers and rural areas, and a new generation of land and agrarian reforms.

Susan Chomba, IPES-Food expert, Kenya, said: “Land isn’t just dirt beneath our feet, it’s the bedrock of our food systems keeping us all fed. Yet we’re seeing soaring land prices and grabs driving an unprecedented ‘land squeeze’, accelerating inequality and threatening food production.

“The rush for dubious carbon projects, tree planting schemes, clean fuels, and speculative buying is displacing small-scale farmers and Indigenous Peoples. In Africa, powerful governments, polluting fossil fuel companies, and big conservation groups are elbowing their way onto our land under the veneer of green goals, directly threatening the very communities bearing the brunt of climate change.”

Nettie Wiebe, IPES-Food expert, Canada, said: “Imagine trying to start a farm when 70% of farmland is already controlled by just 1% of the largest farms – and when land prices have risen for 20 years in a row, like in North America. That’s the stark reality young farmers face today. Farmland is increasingly owned not by farmers but by speculators, pension funds, and big agribusinesses looking to cash in. Land prices have skyrocketed so high it’s becoming impossible to make a living from farming. This is reaching a tipping point – small and medium scale farming are simply being squeezed out.”

Sofía Monsalve Suárez, IPES-Food expert, Colombia, said: “It’s time decision-makers stop shirking their responsibility and start to tackle rural decline. The financialisation and liberalisation of land markets is ruining livelihoods and threatening the right to food. Instead of opening the floodgates to speculative capital, governments need to take concrete steps to halt bogus ‘green grabs’ and invest in rural development, sustainable farming and community-led conservation. Bottom line, we’ve got to make some serious changes to democratise land ownership if we want to ensure a sustainable future for nature, food production and rural communities.”

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