Land Grabs: Why the World Bank can be a force for good

Campaigning for change article written on the 13 Dec 2012

Photo: Oxfam GB

Like many Australians, you probably dream of owning your own piece of land one day. But whether renting or paying off a mortgage, most Australians feel relatively secure they won’t be kicked out of their own home without notice.

For poor people in developing countries, this is not always the case. Families are being unfairly evicted from their land – sometimes violently – and left with no way to grow food or earn a living in the mad scramble for land around the world. In fact, every minute poor countries lose an area of land 10 times the size of the Melbourne Cricket Ground to foreign investors.

In October, Oxfam supporters around the world took part in Oxfam’s  land grabs action, demanding the the World Bank, who funds many big land deals, use its influence for good. The action asked that the World Bank to freeze their large land deals,  but so far they’re not shifting their policy.

One reason they put forward is that they’re not the right target on this issue, that they’re not really involved. They argue “there are bigger baddies”.  Oxfam agrees that the World Bank isn’t the only – or even the worst – actor. However, considering the World Bank’s investment in agriculture has increased from $US2.5 billion in 2002 to $US6-8 billion in 2012, it’s hard to believe that none of this (sizable) investment involves potentially problematic large-scale land acquisition.

In reality, we know that there are very likely more than a few controversial cases relating to land. Since 2008, the World Bank has received 21 official complaints involving land disputes, which have been brought by communities mostly in Africa and Asia-Pacific (Oxfam is involved as a complainant in a number of them). According to the Bank’s own statistics, the number of complaints relating to agribusiness has been growing in the past four years.

Given the Bank’s mandate for tackling poverty, even one land-grab case is a one case too many. The World Bank should be helping to tackle the causes of hunger, not adding to the problem by being involved in deals that can result in communities being forced from the land that they rely on to grow much needed food.

While the World Bank may not be the worst culprit when it comes to land-grabbing, it is a crucial institution for setting the bar high in this critical area. In other words, we believe that if Oxfam can’t convince the World Bank to raise its standards, we have no hope of getting other financing institutions to do so. If the Bank takes leadership, we hope we can use this example of the bank being a force for good to leverage change in other institutions, from regional development banks to private investors.

After a fantastic launch of the campaign, we think that there is still a big chance to influence the Bank and their new President Jim Kim. This means we need to keep up the pressure and insist that they act now.

Clancy Moore, Oxfam’s GROW Campaign Coordinator

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