World Bank land grab report: Beyond smoke and mirrors

Published on Pambazuka, by GRAIN, Sept. 23, 2010. – Linked with Food Crisis and the Global Land Grab (

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.[1] 

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.[2] Is this the best that the World Bank could do?



The bottom line is that there is a huge disconnect between what the World Bank says, what is happening on the ground and what is truly needed. Right now, numerous governments and civil society organisations are calling to put a brake of one form or another on these deals. Australia, Argentina, Brazil, New Zealand and Uruguay are just some of the countries currently debating whether to introduce, at the highest policy levels, restrictions on foreigners getting farmland ownership. Egypt is one of those trying to get tougher to keeping new farmland investment programmes limited to domestic investors. Much of this, the non-xenophobic part, is or could be about establishing new forms or expressions of sovereignty over land, water and food at a time of tremendous pressure on all three. And many farmers’ organisations, academics, human rights groups, NGO networks and social movements are clamouring for all sorts of moratoria and bans and halts to this land grabbing. In the meantime, the hunger of private investors for farmland deals is proliferating. A group of former Cargill traders, for instance, have just launched a US$1 billion fund that aims to buy into farmland in Australia, Brazil and Uruguay.[8]

The World Bank has shown it is not a trusted arbiter or wellspring of good ideas on how to move forward. Too bad if it took the agencies that commissioned this report a very long wait, and a pile of taxpayers’ money, to see that. (full long text).

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