Grain receive Right Livelihood Award
GRAIN was awarded “for its worldwide work to protect the livelihoods and rights of farming communities and to expose the massive purchases of farmland in developing countries for foreign financial interests”.
ln recent years, GRAIN has been at the forefront of documenting, and condemning, the rapidly accelerating phenomenon of land grabbing.
In their acceptance speech, GRAIN coordinator Henk Hobbeling said "There is much to be done. But GRAIN would like to use this opportunity, here in the Swedish Parliament, to call for one specific action. We want an immediate end to the global farmland grab - an urgent and massive "recall" of land grabbers, like what food safety authorities do to get contaminated food out of the food supply. We call on everyone to do whatever is possible to stop the international flow of money for the global acquisition of farmland. And to restitute lands to all affected rural communities. Stopping land grabbing is not just about what is legal. It is about what is just."
Stopping land grabbing is not just about what is legal. It is about what is just.
A seminar with GRAIN took place in Stockholm while they were there to receive their award. The seminar was entitled Land Grabbing and the Global food crisis. The following questions were directed at Mr. Hobbelink by participants at the end of the event.
Q: When did this problem start?
It started off in 2008 with the food crisis and financial crisis. When on the one hand with the food crisis there were a number of wealthy countries but lacking food, like the Gulf states and China as well. They realised in the food crisis that they could not rely on the food markets anymore to supply their food. Therefore they started looking for land in Africa and Latin America and Asia. Over time, what we had seen clearly also because of the financial crisis, banks, investment houses and pension funds have started to look at land and the food commodities as a "safe haven" where they can invest their money in times of crisis.
Q: So food has become the new gold?
Exactly. On the exchange markets food is put in the same bag as gold. Food is a commodity, like gold and oil, and like others which are being negotiated on. The impact of these kind of negotiations are the speculations; the price goes up and for poor and hungry people it becomes impossible to buy food.
Q: You said that it is relatively new thing. Is that why we haven't heard so much about it?
There were always conflicts and fights over land. But what is new, is that we have new actors now. We have banks, we have investment funds, we have pension funds who in the past didn't necessarily want to touch land as a commodity, because it was too complicated to cultivate the land. But in the times of climate change, in the times of when land becomes the scarcest commodity in their view, it's becoming very profitable for these actors to invest in land.
Q: Who are among the biggest land investors?
We usually only read or hear about Gulf states or China investing in farmland, but some of the biggest investors are much closer to our home. The three main pension funds with the biggest investment in agriculture are from the Netherlands, the US and Sweden. Despite the fact that a percentage of the total funds they manage it is not large (1% - 3% of their portfolios, with the figure expected to rise to 5% by 2015), but in terms of their impact on small farmers it has a tremendous impact.
Q: Do we have any date of how many land is under the investors control?
The data, information and the contracts are very hard obtain, but current estimates are that 60-80 million hectares of land have fallen under the control of foreign investors for the food production in the last couple of years only. To illustrate, this is equal to half the farmland of the EU.
- The Right Livelihood Awards are awarded annually and are widely known as the "Alternative Nobel Prize."
- Acceptance speech - GRAIN calls for end to land grabbing at Swedish Parliament
- GRAIN website - www.grain.org and www.farmlandgrab.org
Text: Urška Merc