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World Bank land grab report: Beyond smoke and mirrors 0

The World Bank’s long-awaited report on the global farmland grab is ‘both a disappointment and a failure’, writes GRAIN. The bank provides little ‘new and solid on-the-ground data’ and is silent about its own ‘neck-deep involvement’ in ‘large scale land acquisitions’. Looking ‘beyond the smoke and mirrors effect, the report is ‘more significant for what it doesn’t say than what it does’, says GRAIN.

On 7 September 2010, the World Bank finally decided to publish its much-anticipated report on the global farmland grab. After years of work, several months of political negotiation and who knows how much money spent, the report was casually released on the bank’s website – in English only.

The report is both a disappointment and a failure. Everyone was expecting the bank to provide new and solid on-the-ground data about these ‘large scale land acquisitions’, to use their terminology, that have created so much controversy since 2008. After all, the bank should have access to governments and corporations in a way that journalists and non-government organisation (NGO) researchers never would. The bank itself says this was its central ambition. But there is hardly anything new in the whole 160-plus page document. The bank said it was going to look concretely at 30 countries, but it only looked at 14. As it turns out, companies refused to share information about their farmland investments, as did governments providing the lands. So the bank turned instead to a website run by GRAIN, made a database of all the deals that the media reported on there, and then sent out teams of consultants to see if they were real or not. Is this the best that the World Bank could do?

Ugly Findings

What its researchers and informants found corroborates what many have been saying for two years now. Yes, there is an ‘enormous’ farmland grab going on around the world ever since the 2008 food and financial crises and it shows no signs of abating. The bank says that the 463 projects it tallied from between October 2008 and June 2009 cover at least 46.6 million hectares of land and that the majority of these are in sub-Saharan Africa. Field reports validated that 21 per cent of these projects are ‘in operation’, more than half are under ‘initial development’ and nearly 70 per cent have been ‘approved’. The bank downplays these numbers, presenting them as evidence that the land grab deals are more hype than reality. We think, on the contrary, that they demonstrate that a lot of projects are moving forward, all the more so since the bank’s figures are out of date, with new deals happening all the time.

The bank’s findings also corroborate what others have been saying about the impacts of these land grabs. Its general conclusion is that investors are taking advantage of ‘weak governance’ and the ‘absence of legal protection’ for local communities to push people off their lands. Additionally, it finds that the investments are giving almost zero back to affected communities in terms of jobs or compensation, to say nothing of food security. The message we get is that virtually nowhere, among the countries and cases the bank examined, is there much to celebrate:

‘Many investments (…) failed to live up to expectations and, instead of generating sustainable benefits, contributed to asset loss and left local people worse off than they would have been without the investment. In fact, even though an effort was made to cover a wide spectrum of situations, case studies confirm that in many cases benefits were lower than anticipated or did not materialize at all.

The bank provides a table with some very brief summaries of foreign investments in farmland in seven countries (see Appendix 1). It is one of the only instances where the bank goes into detail about how these investments are actually playing out on the ground. The table paints a horrific picture. Whole communities are getting thrown off their lands, workers are being exploited, violent conflicts are erupting (one senior company representative was killed), investors are breaking laws and promises and so on. What does the bank say about these ‘immense risks’ and ‘real dangers’, as it calls them? That we should not get alarmed, for there are ‘equally large opportunities’.

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Source: Pambazuka News

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi