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Oxfam Criticizes World Bank on Land Issues

Oxfam Criticizes World Bank on Land Issues

Last month, Oxfam International released a new policy paper (Our Land, Our Lives) that looked at large-scale farm land acquisitions in the developing world, along with the role of the World Bank in facilitating some of the transactions as an investor and/or advisor to national governments. According to Oxfam, Africa has borne the brunt of these “investments,” with “an area the size of Kenya acquired for agriculture by foreign investors in just ten years.”

The paper defines a large-scale land acquisition as one in which a tract of land larger than 200 hectares is involved, and identifies a list of problematic factors that indicate a transaction may be fairly characterized as a “land grab.” Among these factors, are:

  • Human rights violations;
  • Lack of free, prior and informed consent; and
  • Failure to assess social, economic and environmental impacts.

What I appreciate about this latest publication from Oxfam, is that is goes beyond analyzing these deals solely on the basis of transactional fairness, transparency and so forth (all legitimate concerns by the way) but expands the inquiry to examine their impact on local food security. Increased food security for local people, as a result of wages earned through day labor, additional resource, etc., is one of the primary justifications for these transactions among the institutional donors and policymakers who support or tolerate them.

But because the majority of land investments in developing countries are made by foreign investors who intend to export their production, Oxfam concludes that many of these investments will not solve local food security problems and are more likely to exacerbate them. Oxfam research in Cambodia, for example, showed negative impact from large land concessions on the food security of local populations, especially women. There, in a survey of 60 people, 45 percent said they were less secure in terms of being able to obtain sufficient rice compared to 38 percent previously. Reasons for the increase included labor shortages and reductions in communal land used for growing food for consumption.

Our Land, Our Lives ultimately calls on the World Bank to freeze its own land investments and to review its policies and practices to prevent land grabbing. Whether that happens or not (and so far it has not), kudos to Oxfam for a report that I hope helps generate more political will for close monitoring and evaluation of the impacts of these investments not only in Africa, but around the world.



Krista Zimmerman

Krista Zimmerman works for a non-governmental organization as its senior advisor on international development assistance and food security policy. She has worked as the deputy director for a rule of law advocacy project in Karnataka, India and as a business services attorney for a leading multinational law firm. Krista grew up in the Philippines and has traveled extensively throughout Asia and Africa. In her free time, she enjoys experimental cooking, canning and blogging. She has a BA in History from Goshen College and a Juris Doctor from the University of Notre Dame Law School.