World Bank Report Warns of Potential Harm Caused By Large-Scale Land Purchases

Volatility in food prices has triggered large-scale farmland purchases in the developing world, which need to be better managed to avoid harm to both the environment and to local populations, according to a new report by the World Bank.

Volatility in food prices has triggered large-scale farmland purchases in the developing world, which need to be better managed to avoid harm to both the environment and to local populations, according to a new report by the World Bank. 

The report, Rising Global Interest in Farmland, finds that since the 2008 surge in food and fuel prices, large farmland purchases have risen to some 45 million hectares (111.2 million acres) last year, which compares with an average expansion rate of 4 million hectares (9.9 million acres) a year in the decade preceding 2008. 

Citing what it said are conservative estimates, the bank said 6 million hectares (14.8 million acres) of additional land will be under production each year to 2030. Two-thirds of that expansion is likely to be in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, which have abundant land. 

The report, which draws on data from 14 developing countries, says such purchases can deliver benefits — about 75 percent of the world's poor are rural and most are engaged in farming — but cautions that, in the past, attempts to jump-start agricultural growth through large-scale farming has not paid enough attention to economic viability and environmental and social impacts. 

While such large-scale farmland deals can benefit populations in developing countries as more modern practices multiply production, many governments don't have safeguards in place to protect indigenous landowners or farmers, the report says. 

The World Bank says countries need to establish new foreign-investment criteria that better recognize land rights, and governments should play a stronger role in developing land-acquisition policies. There's also a need for greater public disclosure on land deals, allowing broader access to information for watchdog organizations. 

The report makes the argument that increased productivity on existing farmland would have a much bigger impact than simply expanding the land area. The World Bank report is available in PDF format at this site. 

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