Grabbed

Land grabbing - One of the lingering effects of the food price crisis of 2007-08 on the world food system is the proliferating acquisition of farmland in developing countries by other countries seeking to ensure their food supplies. Credit: Bigstock

One of the lingering effects of the food price crisis of 2007-08 on the world food system is the proliferating acquisition of farmland in developing countries by other countries seeking to ensure their food supplies. Credit: Bigstock

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Oct 22 2021 – “Imagine that the land your family has worked for generations is suddenly stripped away from you, purchased by wealthy companies or governments to produce food or bio-fuels or simply as a profitable investment for other people, often far away. You watch on helplessly as vast tracts of land are cleared for mono-culture crops and rivers are polluted with run-off and chemicals.”

Unfortunately, this is happening all around the world – in particular in Africa, Latin America, Asia, Oceania and Eastern Europe.

Perhaps this is one of the most appropriate introductions to the worldwide extended practice of ‘land grabbing’, as mentioned by a global grassroots organisation, founded in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, and “counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us.”

 

What is land grabbing?

Land grabbing is a practice consisting of the purchase or lease of large tracts of fertile land by public or private entities, a phenomenon that rose significantly following the 2007-2008 world food economic crisis, describes the Slow Food organisation.

“Imagine waking up one day to be told you’re about to be evicted from your home—being told that you no longer have the right to remain on land that you’ve lived on for years. And then, if you refuse to leave, you will be forcibly removed. For many communities in developing countries, this is a familiar story”

Today land grabbing involves millions of hectares, equivalent to an area as big as Spain, and it continues to spread relentlessly, it adds.

“Transferring large parcels of agricultural land away from local communities threatens food sovereignty and their very existence. It also jeopardises the environment and biodiversity by favouring intensive monoculture farming reliant on fertilisers and pesticides.”

Maybe you would like to know that, since its beginnings, Slow Food has grown into a global movement involving millions of people in over 160 countries, working to ensure that everyone has access to good, clean and fair food.

“One of the lingering effects of the food price crisis of 2007-08 on the world food system is the proliferating acquisition of farmland in developing countries by other countries seeking to ensure their food supplies.”

In other words, land grabbing is the practice of large-scale land acquisitions: the buying or leasing of large pieces of fertile land by private corporations or state-owned companies, governments, and individuals.

 

Who are land-grabbers?

Such private corporations, including the so-called “vulture funds”, are financial, business holdings dedicated to making large profits from buying agricultural lands, forests, real estate properties, mines for the extraction of all sorts of materials that are indispensable for large industries, mostly based in rich countries, in particular for giant technological corporations.

Let alone vast extensions of lands acquired or leased in developing countries, for the purpose of cultivating and exporting highly profitable commercial crops. Also of forests, to be exploited by timber industries.

The practice of land grabbing as used in the 21st century refers to large-scale land acquisitions or leasing for periods ranging between 25 years to 99 years, following the 2007–08 world food price crisis.

Through it, the purchasers pay an amount of money per hectare, and sometimes a portion of the food produced from such fertile soils.

In most cases the grabbing operations are done under a legal umbrella.

 

The impacts

The consequences of these practices are harsh.

In the case of grabbing farming lands, they imply the depletion of soil fertility, the use of huge amounts of often scarce water resources —water grabbing—, the pollution of both soils and water courses with chemicals, the shrinking of local farming, the expropriation of a high number of hectares, all this, among others, leading an increasing food insecurity in developing countries and, thus, their growing dependence of food imports.

 

What extension?

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) estimated in 2009 that between 15 and 20 million hectares of farmland in developing countries had changed hands since 2006.

The estimated value has been calculated for IFPRI’s 2009 data to be 15 to 20 million hectares of farmland in developing countries, worth about 20 billion-30 billion US dollars.

For its part, the Land Portal reports that ‘investments’ made by investors within their home country and after stripping these out found only 26 million hectares of transnational land acquisitions which strips out a lot of the Asian investments.

Other reports inform that Brazil, with 11 percent, is among the largest developing countries targeted, followed by Sudan with 10 percent.

 

Who are the big grabbers?

GRAIN or the international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems, says that the United States, the United Arab Emirates and China all constitute around 12 percent of these deals, followed by India with 8 percent; the UK with 6 percent; South Korea with 5 percent; South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Malaysia all with 4 percent.

Meanwhile, estimates cited by Wikipedia concerning the scope of land acquisition, published in September 2010 by the World Bank, showed that over 460,000 square kilometres or 46,000,000 hectares in large-scale farmland acquisitions or negotiations were announced between October 2008 and August 2009 alone, with two-thirds of demanded land concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa.

It also provides citations indicating that investors can be generally broken down into three types: agribusinesses, governments, and speculative investors. Governments and companies in Gulf States have been very prominent along with East Asian companies.

And that many European- and American-owned investment vehicles and agricultural producers have initiated investments as well. These actors have been motivated by a number of factors, including cheap land, potential for improving agricultural production, and rising food and bio-fuel prices.

Also that food-driven investments, which comprise roughly 37 percent of land investments worldwide, are undertaken primarily by two sets of actors: agribusinesses trying to expand their holdings and react to market incentives, and government-backed investments, especially from the Gulf states, as a result of fears surrounding national food security.

 

The truth about land grabs

Should all this not be sufficient, here is another explanatory introduction to the human impact of land grabbing as cited by Oxfam America:

“Imagine waking up one day to be told you’re about to be evicted from your home—being told that you no longer have the right to remain on land that you’ve lived on for years. And then, if you refuse to leave, you will be forcibly removed. For many communities in developing countries, this is a familiar story.”

In the past decade, adds Oxfam, more than 81 million acres of land worldwide—an area the size of Portugal—has been sold off to foreign investors. Some of these deals are what’s known as land grabs: land deals that happen without the free, prior, and informed consent of communities that often result in farmers being forced from their homes and families left hungry.

 

The global rush for land is leaving people hungry

Oxfam also explains that the 2008 spike in food prices triggered a rush in land deals.

“While these large-scale land deals are supposedly being struck to grow food, the crops grown on the land rarely feed local people. Instead, the land is used to grow profitable crops—like sugarcane, palm oil, and soy—often for export.”

In fact, it goes on, more than 60 percent of crops grown on land bought by foreign investors in developing countries are intended for export, instead of for feeding local communities. “Worse still, two-thirds of these agricultural land deals are in countries with serious hunger problems.”

Further to all the above, some questions arise. For instance, when developing countries’ rulers intend to formulate laws preventing land grabbing? What international laws have to say? And why are mainstream media all over the world not reporting about such a dramatic issue?… Why this heavy curtain of silence?

For Girls, the Biggest Danger of Sexual Violence Lurks at Home

Girls' sexual and reproductive rights activist Mía Calderón stands on San Martín Avenue in San Juan de Lurigancho, the most populous municipality of Peru's capital. She complained that the pandemic once again highlighted the fact that sexual violence against girls comes mainly from someone close to home and that the girls are often not believed. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Girls’ sexual and reproductive rights activist Mía Calderón stands on San Martín Avenue in San Juan de Lurigancho, the most populous municipality of Peru’s capital. She complained that the pandemic once again highlighted the fact that sexual violence against girls comes mainly from someone close to home and that the girls are often not believed. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

By Mariela Jara
LIMA, Oct 22 2021 – “During the pandemic, sexual violence against girls has grown because they have been confined with their abusers. If the home is not a safe place for them, what is then, the streets?” Mía Calderón, a young activist for sexual and reproductive rights in the capital of Peru, remarks with indignation.

The 19-year-old university student, whose audiovisual communications studies have been interrupted due to the restrictions set in place to curb the covid-19 pandemic, is an activist who belongs to the youth collective Vayamos in San Juan de Lurigancho, the district of Lima where she lives.

Located to the northeast of the capital, it is a district of valleys and highlands areas higher than 2200 metres above sea level, where water is a scarce commodity and is supplied by tanker trucks. San Juan de Lurigancho was created 54 years ago and its population of 1,117,629 inhabitants, according to official figures, is mostly made up of families who have come to the capital from the country’s hinterland.

Lima’s 43 districts are home to a total of 9.7 million people, and San Juan de Lurigancho has by far the largest population.

In an interview with IPS during a walk through the streets of her district, Calderón said she helped one of her friends during the mandatory social isolation decreed in this Andean nation between March and July 2020, which has been followed by further restrictions on mobility at times of new covid-19 outbreaks.

Since then, classrooms have been closed and education has continued virtually from home, where girls spend most of their time.

“She was in lockdown with her two sisters, her mother and stepfather. But she left before her stepfather could rape her; the harassment had become unbearable. Now she is very afraid of what might happen to her little sisters because he’s still living at home,” she said.

But not all girls and adolescents at risk of sexual abuse have support networks to rely on.

An intersection with hardly any passers-by in San Juan de Lurigancho, one of the 43 districts of the Peruvian capital. There are now fewer children on the streets because schools have been closed since the beginning of the covid pandemic and they receive their education virtually. This keeps them safe from violence in public spaces, but increases the abuse they suffer at home. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

An intersection with hardly any passers-by in San Juan de Lurigancho, one of the 43 districts of the Peruvian capital. There are now fewer children on the streets because schools have been closed since the beginning of the covid pandemic and they receive their education virtually. This keeps them safe from violence in public spaces, but increases the abuse they suffer at home. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Data that exposes the violence

Official statistics reveal a devastating reality: Between early 2020 and August of this year there have been 1763 births to girls under 14 years of age, according to the Health Ministry’s birth registration system (CNV).

All of these pregnancies and births are considered to be the result of rape, as the concept of sexual consent does not apply to girls under 14, who are protected by Peruvian law.

Looking at CNV figures from 2018 to August 2021, the total number increases to 4483, which would mean that on average five girls under the age of 14 give birth in Peru every day.

This is also the conclusion reached by the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights (Cladem), which in September completed a nationwide study on forced child pregnancy in Peru, published on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

For Cladem, forced child pregnancy is any pregnancy of a minor under 14 years of age resulting from rape, who was not guaranteed access to therapeutic abortion, which in the case of Peru is the only form of legal termination of pregnancy.

“These figures are unacceptable, but we know they may be even worse because of underreporting,” Lizbeth Guillén, who until August was the Peruvian coordinator of this Latin American network whose regional headquarters are in Lima, told IPS by telephone.

The activist headed up the project “Monitoring and advocacy for the prevention, care and punishment of forced child pregnancy” which was funded by the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women between 2018 and August 2021.

An aggravating factor for at risk girls and adolescents was that during the months of lockdown, public services for addressing violence against women were suspended and the only thing available was toll-free telephone numbers, which made it more difficult for victims to file complaints.

“What we have experienced shows us once again that homes are the riskiest places for girls,” said Guillén.

The Cladem study also reveals that the number of births to girls under 10 years of age practically tripled, climbing from nine cases in 2019 to 24 in 2020. And the situation remains worrisome, as seven cases had already been documented this year as of August.

Julia Vargas, 61, works in the municipality of Villa El Salvador, south of Lima, where she has lived since the age of 11 and where she maintains her vocation of service as a health promoter. Through this work she knows first-hand about sexual violence against girls and adolescents, which she says has worsened during the pandemic since they have been confined to their homes with their potential abusers. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Julia Vargas, 61, works in the municipality of Villa El Salvador, south of Lima, where she has lived since the age of 11 and where she maintains her vocation of service as a health promoter. Through this work she knows first-hand about sexual violence against girls and adolescents, which she says has worsened during the pandemic since they have been confined to their homes with their potential abusers. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

One district’s experience

“Sexual violence against girls has been indescribable during this period, worse than covid-19 itself. Men have been taking advantage of their daughters, they think they have authority over them,” said Julia Vargas, a local resident of Villa El Salvador.

This municipality, which emerged as a self-managed experience five decades ago to the south of the capital, offers health promotion as part of its public services to the community.

Vargas, a 61-year-old mother of four grown children, is proud to be a health promoter, for which she has received training from the Health Ministry and from non-governmental organisations such as the Flora Tristán Peruvian Women’s Centre.

“It’s hard to conceive of so much violence against girls,” she told IPS indignantly at a meeting in her district, “and the worst thing is that many times the mothers turn a blind eye; they say if he (their partner) leaves, who is going to support me.”

Studies indicate that women’s economic dependence is a factor that prevents them from exercising autonomy and reinforces unequal power relations that sustain gender-based violence.

Vargas continued: “There was a case of a father who got his three daughters pregnant and made them have clandestine abortions, and do you think the justice system did anything? Nothing! It said there was consent, how can a young girl give consent?!”

“Girls can’t be mistreated this way, they have rights,” she said.

Mía Calderón, a 19-year-old youth activist with the Vayamos collective, demands more and better measures in Peru to defend girls from sexual violence, fueled by the closure of schools since the beginning of the pandemic, which keeps them isolated and in homes where they sometimes live with their abusers. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Mía Calderón, a 19-year-old youth activist with the Vayamos collective, demands more and better measures in Peru to defend girls from sexual violence, fueled by the closure of schools since the beginning of the pandemic, which keeps them isolated and in homes where they sometimes live with their abusers. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

The culprit nearby

Calderón is also familiar with this situation. “The pandemic has highlighted the fact that sexual violence comes mainly from someone close to home and that many times the girls are not believed: ‘you provoked your uncle, your stepfather’, they are told by their families, instead of focusing on the abuser,” she said.

Her collective Vayamos works to help girls have the right to enjoy every stage of their lives. Due to the pandemic, the group had to restrict its face-to-face activities, but as a counterbalance, it increased the publication of content on social networks.

“No girl or adolescent should live in fear of sexual violence or should face any such risk,” she said.

However, Cladem’s research indicates that between 2018 and 2020, there were 12,677 complaints of sexual violence against girls under 14 in the country, the cause of many forced pregnancies.

But official statistics do not differentiate between child and adolescent pregnancy.

The 2019 National Health Survey reported that of the female population between 15 and 19 years of age, 12.6 percent had been pregnant or were already mothers. The percentage in rural areas was higher than the national rate: 22.7 percent.

Youth activist Mia Calderón, health promoter Julia Vargas and Cladem member Lizbeth Guillén all agree on the proposal to decriminalise abortion in cases of rape and on the need for timely delivery of emergency kits by public health services to prevent forced pregnancies and maternity.

These kits contain emergency contraceptive pills, HIV and hepatitis tests, among other components for comprehensive health protection for victims.

“There are regulatory advances such as this joint action protocol between the Ministry of Women and the Health Ministry for a girl victim of violence to access the emergency kit, but in practice it is not complied with due to the personal conceptions of some operators and they deprive the victims of this right,” explained Guillén.

She stressed that in order to overcome the weak response of the State to such a serious problem, it is also necessary to adequately implement existing regulations, guarantee access to therapeutic abortion for girls and adapt prevention strategies, since the danger often lies directly in the home.