Huge land deals threaten poor country farmers: UN expert

Post Source: AFP Global Edition – Mar 08, 2010

Subsistence farmers in developing nations are at risk because farmland equivalent to the total amount available in France has been negotiated away to foreign investors since 2006, a UN expert said Monday. “I am extremely doubtful and worried to see these transactions involving very large areas of land, which will threaten these people’s ability to continue” subsistence farming, said Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur on the right to food.

In a report, De Schutter cited estimates of “between 15 million to 20 million hectares [37 million to 49 million acres] that had been subject to transactions or negotiations involving foreign investors since 2006″.

He said it was equal to the total area of farmland in France and a fifth of all agricultural land in the European Union.

Most of the dealings involved leases or the sale of land in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and eastern Europe.

De Schutter said many subsistence farmers had little in the way of established land rights, while local elites seized on foreign interest as a business opportunity.

“The arrival of foreign investors is leading to increased speculation on land,” he added, insisting that most of the subsequent crops were destined for export from the countries rather than local food markets.

“I’m struck to say that in half of the cases it’s not food that is produced it’s crops which will produce agrofuels in order to feed into the very rapidly increasing demand for bioenergy in rich countries,” the UN human rights expert told journalists.

De Schutter called for international guidelines on land dealings to ensure the rights of local communities.

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