Anuradha Mittal learning call on Land Grabs recording up:

Better, static and distortion free-version:

Key Points:

  • The Oakland Institute (OI) decided to start looking into what are now called ‘land grabs,’ because of growing investments in agriculture that began to take place in Africa after the food crisis in 2008.  The Institute noticed that there was a shift in the discourse around land and agricultural investments in Africa – talk about investing in land and agriculture in Africa being a means for Africa to “not only feed herself, but the world,” and that such investments would create a “win-win” situation. These seemed like myths to OI, because there was never any data being given to back up these statements, which is why OI undertook this investigation. OI was not prepared for the scale at which land grabs are happening, nor for the lack of transparency that they found.
  • OI’s conservative estimates are that between 2008 and2009, nearly 16 million hectares of land have been leased or purchased by foreign investors. 70-80 percent of these deals have taken place in Africa.
  • “We have a report that will be coming out in 2012 that will say that it might actually be around 200 million hectares in the last decade or so.”
  • There are virtually no records of these land deals, no easy way to find out who has been behind these investments, and if there are records of the land deals they are nearly impossible to obtain.
  • In exchange for a bottle of whiskey, OI was able to find that the Government of Mozambique has determined there are 7 million hectares of land to be given away. Official from Mozambique implied to OI that whenever a land deal is made, they have no problem displacing inhabitants from their land.
  • Communities do not know their land has been given away until the bulldozers arrive, or government officials show up and tell them to move.
  • OI studied over 50 land deals for their reports, inSouth Sudan, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Mali.
  • In its biggest surprise, OI finds that land grab purchases are not limited to purchases by China, India, and Gulf States.  In actuality, U.S. and E.U. investors are also heavily involved, particularly through private equity and hedge funds. The financial crisis has led investors to look to invest in soft commodities that are considered safer to invest in. 20-40 percent returns are being promised on these investments. So now we see pension funds and university endowments becoming involved.
  • The numbers being put forward on how much land is actually available for purchase or lease is problematic. In Sierra Leone, the FAO website lists 85 percent of its arable land as available, that is, that is not owned by or being used by local people. OI shows that those numbers are based on research that was done 40 years ago. Since the OI report, the FAO had to change its country page on Sierra Leone to show the truth, that there is no unused arable land that is available for foreign lease or purchase.
  • The government of Ethiopia has begun what is almost a 7 million hectare lease project wherein around a million people are being displaced from their lands and moved to newly-set up population centers.  In South Sudan, a country that was just born this year after years of civil conflict, the role of mass land purchases on spurring further conflict is going to be significant.
  • OI also examined the reasons that investors are getting such high returns of 20-40 percent on these investments.  It found that this has to do with the tax holidays and incentives being given by governments for this type of activity, as well as the exceedingly low cost of the land to the investors.  In Tanzania, for example, very good land is being sold at $0.50 per hectare, land that in the UK would sell for $26,000 per hectare or $16,000 per hectare in Iowa. Even in Brazil or Argentina, such land would sell for $8-9,000 per hectare.  In addition, in all of the deals that OI examined, the investors did not have to pay profit taxes or import duties, and profits could be repatriated at 100 percent.  Although the investors did not generally report on job creation, in the one case that did, the company listed the investment as creating 18 jobs, while it had displaced a community of 7,000 people from their lands.  This picture shows clearly that these investments do not create a win-win situation, but rather a substantial net loss for the host communities and countries.
  • Many of these deals are also for agrofuel creation or forestry, so that fertile land that was once feeding communities is now being taken over for the growing of agrofuels.
  • These will also have a major impact on water quality and accessibility.  Anuradha points out that many investors say that they internally refer to their funds in Africa not as “land funds” but “water funds,” with the goal of securing water rights.
  • “Who is invested in these pension funds? Whose university endowments are promoting this trend? Whose development agencies are promoting this trend? It is our government, our universities, our pension funds. So it really opens up opportunities for us to do some real concrete activism. Though Harvard has never come out and said it openly because of their policy, when we exposed their investment in emergent asset management, we have a lot of evidence that shows that they have now pulled out.”
  • OI is frequently asked if there is a way to have this type of type of investment in a more sustainable way, without such negative consequences.  OI responds that it is not against investment in agriculture, in fact one of the biggest problems of food insecurity has been a result of the World Bank and others advising people not to invest in agriculture over the last 30 years. But, the question needs to be what kind of investment.  If the goal is to increase livelihoods, create jobs, deal with climate change, smallholder farmers need to be put at the center of policy-making. If governments put in place schemes to support farmers’ control over their land and their access to credit, those goals will be accomplished. Places that have nothing to do with agriculture, like pension funds, university endowments, JP Morgan Chase, emergent asset management, people with financial backgrounds; they should not be involved in agriculture. Because agriculture is about feeding families, communities, and preserving biodiversity, not getting 20-40 percent returns to finance investors when the rest of the economy is tanking.



Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Oakland Institute Land Grabs Press Release and Learning Call Recordings

Many thanks to all those who participated in the learning call on land grabs in Africa on Tuesday, December 13th. Anuradha Mittal, the Executive Director of the Oakland Institute  gave us a wonderfully nuanced and informative talk about the patterns of land grabbing in Africa, who the major players are and how civil society both in the United States and internationally are finding spaces to have an impact.

The following day, the Oakland Institute issued a press release particularly on the problems that come along with private land investment in the newly formed South Sudan. As Anuradha explained during the phone call, international development groups attempting to lay groundwork for international private investments in South Sudan at a time when the government has not even fully formed holds the potential to create a lot of conflict. The press release stated:

“As South Sudan opens for business, foreign companies are flocking to invest in the new country and buy up land. For a school, a health center, some vague promises of employment opportunities, or a couple thousand dollars in annual lease payments, companies are given long-term leasehold rights of up to 99 years, often without the knowledge of the local populations living on the land.”

For the full text, click here.

Recordings soon to come.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pacific Rim vs. El Salvador Case and Other News

A couple of interesting developments and articles relating to resource rights struggles in Latin America:

1) A protest took place today in front of the World Bank regarding the Pacific Rim ICSID case against the government of El Salvador. A letter was delivered on behalf of 243 international civil society organizations representing hundreds of millions of people.

2)A community in Costa Rica managed to get a Canadian gold mining concession canceled. The transnational company, Infinite Gold, has had its concession definitively cancelled and will be required to pay for the damages it has done to the environment. The company has said it has not ruled out taking the case to international courts.

3) In Guatemala, information about abuses taking place in a nickel mine have been published by the Latin American Working Group.

4) In Peru, communities in Cajamarca have been facing a hard time battling the Conga gold mining concession, owned by U.S.-based Newmont. Mine protest leaders were recently detained for 10 hours by Peruvian counterterrorism police with no charge.

5) Peru has, however decided to put a ten-year ban on its bringing genetically modified seeds into the country, and farming with genetically modified seeds. There is an exception being made for “derived products that have been imported with the purpose of direct human or animal consumption, or with the aim of processing those products,”(our translation) so it appears that the ban is more concerned with preserving Peru’s biodiversity than potential human health concerns. That said, food products that do have GMOs will be required to be labelled as such, and the Peruvian government is saying that the ten year ban will give them enough time to scientifically study the effects of GMO products. Regions are allowed to declare themselves GMO-free zones, which Lima has now done.  

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Quick link and upcoming learning call announcement


We want to announce another learning call coming up, this time with Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute. She will be speaking about the Institute’s new findings and report on land grabs in Africa, which has been a resource rights issue of growing concern lately. She will discuss the links between land grabs and global investment, and what communities are doing to fight for their rights and livelihoods in the face of dispossession and threatened survival. To RSVP or for more information, please email Lela at

We also wanted to share this story that Al Jazeera has done on the disastrous impacts of illegal gold mining in Ghana.

From the summary: “The problem of illegal gold mining has become so serious in some parts of Ghana that President John Atta Mills has said that he will take whatever steps are necessary to stop it. But somehow, despite the best efforts of the authorities, who occasionally launch high profile raids to shut the galamsey operations down, illegal mining continues to thrive. Indeed, as this investigation reveals, the operations have proved so lucrative that in parts of Ghana, a wave of Chinese speculators has moved in to provide the funds to hire the workers and import the necessary machinery. At one point Anas goes undercover to work in an illegal mine run by one of these groups, for less than $6 a day, and finds that children are being employed too and in the most primitive conditions.”

Take a look:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Water Crisis and the Great Lakes as a Commons

Many thanks to those who showed up at the Institute for Policy Studies office on Friday November 4th or called in to hear Maude Barlow speak about the campaign to establish the Great Lakes as a commons and how this can further the rights of local communities to manage and conserve their water. You can click below to hear the recordings.

For those who may be unfamiliar with her work, Maude is one of the leading experts on the world water crisis that is unfolding. She is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, and she served as Senior Advisor on Water to the President of the UN General Assembly in 2008-9.  Maude is also the co-founder of the Blue Planet Project, which works internationally for the human right to water, and is board chair of the Washington DC-based organization Food & Water Watch. Her advocacy has played a major role in getting the UN to pass the Declaration of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation in 2010.

Listening to Maude talk about the current water situation was both informative and inspiring. In the context of the increasing global inequality and growing number of droughts and floods occurring around the world, Maude’s message was both timely and urgent. She highlighted the critical nature of the current water situation, pointing out that the water companies themselves have published a study saying that by 2030, global demand for water will have outstripped supplies by 40 percent. At the same time, Maude stressed the grave injustice of people dying around the world for lack of water when others make massive profits from it, and the relevance of water in broader resource rights struggles.  As she told our audience:

“(…)Desert is growing in over a hundred countries in the world, absolutely unnecessarily. In places like the Horn of Africa, where the story you’ll read about is too many people, too little rain, bad government, they don’t tell you that there is huge agribusiness and biofuel corporations and land grabs in Africa now that are twice the size of Great Britain, that are taking the best, most accessible water, and using it to grow products to send not only out of the watershed but out of the country.”

Maude Barlow does not leave her listeners feeling desperate or helpless upon hearing these stark facts, though. She wants people to understand the real feasibility and applicability of safeguarding the world’s water by establishing public and local control of our water sources for the public good. She described concretely what successful campaigns around water look like, and how water issues can unite the diverse groups and stakeholders in a community.  Maude gave several examples of local campaigns in North America to take public control of water, and described the campaign to establish the Great Lakes as commons as a concrete model of how this can work.  She makes it clear that human rights and local environmental stewardship intrinsically go hand-in-hand, and sees the commons framework as a practical way to bring the two together.

Second half:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Hello All,

Firstly, we’d like to announce a learning call this Friday, November 4th at 2pm Eastern time with writer and activist Maude Barlow. Maude is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, and she has served as Senior Advisor on Water to the President of the UN General Assembly.  Maude is also the co-founder of the Blue Planet Project, which works internationally for the human right to water, and is board chair of the Washington DC-based organization Food & Water Watch.

Maude Barlow will discuss the major campaign spearheaded by her organization to establish the Great Lakes as a public commons.  Using this campaign as a case, Maude will discuss how using the commons framework can help to protect the rights of the local communities to their resources, what has been learned from this specific campaign, and how she views the connections between a commons framework and a rights-based approach.

There will be a phone number to call in, or for those in the DC area, she will be at the Institute for Policy Studies offices speaking. If you are interested in calling in or attending, please email Lela Singh at:

In other news, it appears that the transparent implementation Peru’s much-lauded new Consultation Law has been called into question just two months after its passage. Survival International reported on Thursday, October 27th  that the top ranking official on indigenous affairs in Peru, Raquel Yrigoyen Fajardo has been dismissed from her post at INDEPA.

She was reportedly fired without a stated reason, after upholding the new Consultation Law by blocking a Argentine Pluspetrol’s Camisea natural-gas project that would have run through Amazonian lowlands still inhabited by as-yet uncontacted indigenous groups. According to Survival International, a lawyer with experience in “business ethics” named Arturo Zambrano Gustavo Chavez will be the new head of INDEPA.

The Camisea Project is nothing new, and had been green-lighted by INDEPA before Ms. Yrigoyen Farjado entered office. The project is known for being the largest and most ambitious natural gas project in Peru’s history. For those who are interested, the Bank Information Center has a collection of documents and articles surrounding the project.

Update: Today it was reported that the same thing has happened in Brazil, as indigenous leader Megaron Txucarramãe has been sacked from a similar position, due to his campaigning against the Belo Monte Dam. This has happened just over a week after a Brazilian Federal judge ruled the dam construction illegal, due to inadequate consultation with the indigenous groups who would be affected. While the passage of the Consultation Law in Peru, and the court ruling in Brazil respecting rights to consultation are promising steps, these firings reflect a fundamental lack of commitment by these governments to real free, prior and informed consent.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Peru’s New Consultation Law: does consultation mean consent?

This past Tuesday, Peru’s new president Ollanta Humala enacted a law which will require that energy companies and mining companies seeking to start new projects will first have to consult the local and indigenous communities on those lands.

He said: “We want to make sure … that they are treated like citizens, not like little children who are not asked about anything.”

The law was passed unanimously by Congress, without any abstentions. The U.N.’s special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, has praised the law, saying: “I hope that this is indicative of a strong commitment by the Peruvian State to respond to the demands of indigenous peoples to be consulted about measures that directly affect them, and in particular about extractive industry projects in and around their territories.”

The law comes at a time when Latinamerica Press reports that three-quarters of Peru’s Amazonian Basin has been concessioned off to extractive industries, and when last year it’s coverage by oil and gas concessions was reported at around 41%.

AIDESEP, Peru’s largest Amazonian Indigenous Federation, has expressed support for the law and views it as an important step forward in the recognition of indigenous rights. It is, however, concerned with the implementation of the law, pointing out that the Ministry in charge of implementing the law (El Ministerio de Interculturalidad) lacks the resources to confront such a large issue.

According to Amazon Watch Executive Director Atossa Soltani, “Indigenous peoples’ right of free, prior, and informed consent has been reaffirmed in recent years through the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and legal judgments of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. (…)  Consultation, when truly carried out in good faith, is an important element for promoting that right.”

Speaking about AIDESEP, Soltani added: “Peru’s indigenous movement deserves tremendous credit for their persistent advocacy,”  “They provided constructive input into the bill’s draft text last year and then lobbied vociferously after President Garcia offered eight line-item vetoes.”

The law, however, does not give communities the right to “veto” a project. Latinamerica Press reports that: ” Even though the norm does not make the indigenous vote binding, or give the communities a right to a veto, it does establish that the communities and the government must “reach an agreement or consent” in legislative or administrative issues that affect the communities directly, “through an inter-cultural dialogue that guarantees their inclusion in the state’s decision-making processes and the adoption of measures that respect their collective rights.”

While the idea of giving indigenous communities the right to say “yes” or “yes” to a project seems somewhat questionable, this is certainly a step in the right direction, and one that will hopefully be implemented appropriately and transparently.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment