Consumers vs. the Consumed: Oh So Benevolent Land Grabbing

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Land grabbing, a hot new development trend is the rage in developing countries.  Spreading advanced and better agricultural methods to improve the well being and wealth of all those in need is without a doubt the most benevolent gesture ever made by wealthy governments and corporations.  Using their superior knowledge, the civilized person is sharing their privilege with peoples across the globe.

Yikes, writing that made me feel like a terrible person.  I mean who actually believes that crap?

Oh yeah that’s right, countless national governments and an expanding list of corporations.

Before I get into the juice of this blog post and dissect what I have said thus far, I want to clarify that land grabbing may have developed a slightly new connotation, but is in no way a new development concept.  Land grabbing spans back centuries and has occurred across the globe.  Most notably during the age of imperialism when Western powers seized control of land on almost every continent.  Even here in the United States, a country that prides itself as being the land of the free and the home of the brave, over 1.5 billion acres were taken from America’s indigenous peoples by treaty and executive order (Ehrenfreund). http://knowmore.washingtonpost.com/2014/06/19/watch-the-united-states-238-year-land-grab-from-native-americans-in-87-seconds/ Now over 300 million people live in the Untied States with millions claiming right to private property that they can call their own.  Do we, as Americans, even have the right to call this land ours?

This is a question that can be asked of any national government or corporation, which seizes control of land once controlled by local peoples.  Do they have a right?  What are their justifications?  Do they realize the implications of their actions?

The modern concept of land grabbing refers to “the purchase or long- term lease of vast tracts of land from mostly poor, developing countries by wealthier, food-insecure nations as well as private entities to produce food for export” (Daniel 1).  The economic crash in 2008 caused a spike in global food prices and the emergence of the modern day concept of land grabbing.  Initially the concept was seen as a way for food-insecure nations to develop a reliable food source, but it quickly became apparent that the primary driving factors of land grabs were natural resource allocation and profit gains.  Land grabbers come not for marginalized land, but land rich in nutrients.  Beyond displacing local farmers land grabbers use methods I have mentioned in previous blogs, such as GMO seeds and monoculture, which further hurt the environment and small farmers.

As with any development concept there are positives and negatives.  Yes, there are legitimate arguments for land grabs and there are circumstances in which local peoples benefit from them; however, these positives are uncommon.  Residents in Neemana, a small farming village in northeastern India, have willingly sold most of their agricultural land to a private corporation with the promise of jobs, infrastructure, and community development (Lakshmi 1).  While this village may see the benefits they were offered many people in the same situation elsewhere will not.  False promises are the fuel that keeps the land grab concept going.  As long as people have hope of a better future compliance is easy.

If people refuse to comply with land grabbers demands their land can be taken by force both legally and illegally.  People are pushed off of their farms and in many circumstances left jobless with no reliable source of income.  A Transnational Institution policy report found that even those who are incorporated into the new workforce, generated by large farms, are often left to struggle on their own because their voices are squashed and their labor is exploited (TNI 1).

The important take away here is that regardless of whether or not local peoples comply with land grabbers, the belief remains that local people need to change their agricultural practices and develop society.  This belief asserts that there is one way to life, the Western way.  Who are Western’s to say that the culture of another people is undeveloped and therefore inferior to Western culture?

Rather than coming in, grabbing land, and telling locals that all is for the best, land grabbers should be incorporating the voices and wants of those in the community.  “The public, and particularly the people likely to be affected, must be given due opportunities of information and hearings, and allowed to examine all aspects of the project, including the ‘public purpose’, and also the possibilities of achieving the same objectives through non-displacing or less displacing alternatives” (Saxena 1).  Land grabbing can be beneficial towards the community, but so can other development measures that place more power in the hands of local farmers.

This is where consumers join the land grabbing story line.  While consumers cannot directly control the food that appears in grocery stores they can choose where to shop.  The reason grocery stores have such a wide variety of food is because the food comes from farms around the globe.  The odds that the food comes from small farmers are slim, more likely the food comes from large monoculture agribusiness that often participate in land grabbing.  Consumers in developed nations of the privilege of variety, but we need to wake up and realize that we play a role in land grabbing, our privilege allows us to consume small farmers around the globe.

 

Citations

Daniel, Shepard. “Land grabbing and potential implications for world food security.” Sustainable Agricultural Development. Springer Netherlands, 2011. 25-42.

Ehrenfreund, Max. “Watch the United States’ 238-year Land Grab from Native Americans, in 87 Seconds.” Know More. The Washington Post, 19 June 2014. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.

Lakshmi, Rama. “High-Tech Revolution Remaking Rural India.” Washington Post. The Washington Post Foreign Service, 01 Oct. 2007. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.

Saxena, NC. “Solution Lies between NAC and Govt’s ‘CAN'” Hindustantimes. Hindustan Times, 28 June 2011. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.

TNI. “The Global Land Grab.” Policy File. Transnational Institution, 11 Oct. 2012. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.

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