Monday, June 27, 2011

Add ‘land grabbing’ to global human rights issues

Land grabbing, a hectic part of U.S. westward movement in the 19th century, is now playing a destructive role in globalization.

On June 7, the Oakland Institute, a think tank based in the California city of that name, released a report concentrating on land grabbing in Africa. In at least six African countries, hedge funds and other foreign speculators have, in 2009 alone, acquired land equal to the size of France.

Besides displacing millions of small farmers and often devastating the environment, “these land grant agreements lead only to dollars in the pockets of corrupt leaders and foreign investors,” the institute report said. But the repercussions are not just local, the institute emphasized:

“The same financial firms that drove us into a global recession by inflating the real estate bubble through risky financial maneuvers are now doing the same with the world’s food supply.”

Later in June, Grassroots International, a Boston-based human rights advocacy group, and nearly 500 other organizations around the world jointly circulated an appeal calling upon governments “to immediately cease all massive land grabs and return the plundered land to communities.” The document, called the “Dakar Appeal Against Land Grabbing,” was originally drafted at the World Social Forum held in Dakar in February 2011.

“The massive acquisition of agricultural land by transnational companies…,” the Appeal states, “has multiplied farmer evictions and reduced the capacity of many African, Asian, and Latin American countries and communities to feed themselves.”

‘Reversing land reform’

In a paper prepared for the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation conference in Rome this April, Father François Houtart, a noted Belgian sociologist, outlined various crises afflicting the globe. Here is an excerpt from his analysis of the crisis in agriculture.

Over the last few years there has been an expansion of monoculture, resulting in the concentration of land-holdings – in other words, a veritable reversal of land reform. Peasant and family agriculture is being destroyed all over the world on the pretext of its low productivity. It is true that monoculture can produce from 500 and even 1,000 times more than peasant agriculture in its present state. Nevertheless, two factors should be taken into account.

-- First, this kind of production is leading to ecological destruction. It eliminates forests, and contaminates the soil and the waters of oceans and rivers through the massive use of chemical products. Over the next 50 to 75 years we shall be creating the deserts of tomorrow.

-- Second, peasants are being thrown off their lands, and millions of them have to migrate to the cities, to live in shanty towns, causing urban crises and increasing internal migratory pressure, as in Brazil; or they are going abroad, as in many other countries in the world.

Together with public services, agriculture is now one of the new frontiers for capital, especially in times when the profitability of productive industrial capital is relatively reduced and there is a considerable expansion of financial capital seeking sources of profit.

Recently we have witnessed an unprecedented phenomenon: the land grabbing by private and State capital, particularly in Africa, for the production of food and agrofuels. The South Korean corporation Daewoo obtained a concession of 1,200,000 hectares in Madagascar for a period of 99 years, which provoked a serious political crisis in that country. Countries like Libya and the Gulf Emirates are doing likewise in Mali and various other African countries. European and North American mining and agro-energy multinationals are securing the opportunity to exploit tens of millions of hectares for long periods, as Chinese State and private enterprises are also doing.

There is very little concern for the ecological and social implications, which are considered as ‘externalities’, i.e. external to market calculations. And this is the second aspect of capitalist logic, after the rate of profitability. It is not capital that is having to deal with the negative effects, but local societies and individuals. This has always been the strategy of capital, even in the countries of the center, with no concern for the fate of the working classes, or for the peoples in the peripheries under colonialism. There is no concern, either, for nature and the way of life of local populations.

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