Land sold off in last decade could grow enough food to feed a billion people

Published: 4th October 2012

World Bank must freeze investments to protect poor people from land grabs

Land eight times the size of the UK was sold off globally in the last decade, enough to grow food for a billion people says international development agency Oxfam. This is the equivalent to the number of people who go hungry in the world todayIn its new report, Our Land, Our Lives, Oxfam warns that more than 60 per cent of investments in agricultural land by foreign investors between 2000 and 2010 were in developing countries with serious hunger problems. However, two thirds of those investors plan to export everything they produce on the land. Nearly 60 percent of global land deals in the past decade have been to grow crops that can be used for biofuels.

The report comes as Oxfam steps up its campaign to end land grabs that violate the rights of the world’s poorest people. Oxfam supports greater investment in agriculture and to small-scale farmers. However the unprecedented rush for land has not been adequately regulated or policed to prevent land grabs. This means that poor people continue to be evicted, often violently, without consultation or compensation. Many lose their homes and are left destitute, without access to the land they rely on for food to eat and make a living.

Two thirds of foreign land deals in poor countries happen in places with serious hunger problems.

In Liberia, 30 per cent of the country has been swallowed up by land deals in just five years. Already an area of land the size of London is being sold to foreign investors every six days in poor countries. Oxfam calculates that land deals tripled during the food price crisis in 2008 and 2009 because land was increasingly viewed as a profitable investment. With global food prices again hovering at record levels urgent action is needed to stop the threat of another wave of land grabs.

Oxfam says the World Bank must act now to temporarily freeze its agricultural investments in land so it can review its advice to developing countries, help set standards for investors and introduce more robust policies to stop land-grabs. The World Bank is in a unique position as both an investor in land and an adviser to developing countries. The Bank’s investments in agriculture have increased by 200 per cent in the last 10 years, while its private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, sets standards followed by many investors. The Bank’s own research reveals that countries with the most large scale land deals are those with the poorest protection of people’s land rights. And since 2008, 21 formal complaints have been brought by communities affected by Bank projects that they say have violated their land rights.

Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam’s Executive Director, said: “The world is facing an unbridled land rush that is exposing poor people to hunger, violence and the threat of a life-time in poverty. The World Bank is in a unique position to stop this from becoming one of the great scandals of the 21st century.

“By implementing a temporary freeze, and reviewing its approach, the Bank can set an example to all investors and governments that could help put a stop to these human rights abuses and ensure that investors genuinely help boost development in some of the poorest communities. Investment should be good news for developing countries – but it is important that it is truly beneficial and does not harm people or consign them to greater poverty, hunger and hardship.”

Oxfam wants to see progress towards the freeze at the World Bank’s first Annual Meeting since Jim Kim was installed as its new President, in Tokyo on 12-14 October. Putting a stop to its investments in the short term will give the Bank time to put its own house in order.

Specifically, Oxfam wants the World Bank’s freeze to send a strong signal to global investors to stop land-grabbing and to improve standards for:

  • Transparency – ensuring that information about land deals is publicly accessible for both affected communities and governments.
  • Consultation and consent – ensuring communities are informed in advance, and can agree or refuse projects.
  • Land rights and governance – strengthening poor people’s rights to land and natural resources, especially women, through better land tenure governance as set out by the Committee for Food Security.
  • Food security – ensuring that land investments do not undermine local and national food security.

Hobbs said: “The World Bank, with a remit to tackle global poverty, has a responsibility to help stop land grabs and must take urgent action because the rush for land is only likely to accelerate as competition for food and natural resources intensifies.  It must ensure that poor people’s rights are protected.”

Act now to stop land grabs

Read the report: ‘Our Land, Our Lives’: Time out on the global land rush

Read the Land grabs Q&A

The world is facing an unbridled land rush that is exposing poor people to hunger, violence and the threat of a life-time in poverty.
Jeremy Hobbs
Executive Director, Oxfam International

Notes to editors

  • According to the International Land Coalition, 203 million hectares of land was acquired in major deals globally between 2000 and 2010.
  • The same research shows that 106 million hectares of land in developing countries was acquired by foreign investors between 2000 and 2010.

Contact information

For photographs, film, audio and testimonies, or to arrange interviews, please contact Lucy Brinicombe, +44 (0)7786 110054 /

Oxfam is campaigning against land grabs as part of its GROW campaign, which aims to secure a future where everyone has enough to eat. Visit