Inflammation and stories on land

Last month, the President of India promulgated the controversial Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Ordinance despite massive public opposition. This means that even though the bill outlining the amendments has not yet passed in India’s Upper House to legally become a law, its content would still be enforced. Multiple farmer organizations have collectively filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the ordinance, labeling it as “unconstitutional” and an unchecked exercise of executive power.

The bill amends various aspects of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013, which replaced the colonial-era Land Acquisition Act of 1894. The aim of the amendments is to facilitate development projects with greater ease by expediting land acquisition.

But many argue that the amendments violate property rights of vulnerable communities and risk exacerbating economic and social woes. While the 2013 Act made the consent of at least 70-80% of landowners mandatory for a project to be carried out, the new amendments no longer require any level of consent for projects that are for national security and defense, rural infrastructure, social infrastructure, industrial corridors and housing for the poor.

The amendments also no longer mandate a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) to be carried out for these five types of projects or any Public-Private Partnership (PPP) project if the government owns the land. Opponents of the amendment fear that the categories exempt from the consent and SIA requirements are so broad that nearly all land development projects can be carried out without them.

The new amendments also weaken the previous Act’s provision that decreed land be returned to its original owners if it remained unused for more than five years after its purchase. As a report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India on Special Economic Zones found last November, land in India is often left undeveloped for long periods of time.

Opponents also criticize the amendments for increasing government officials’ immunity against prosecution. In the old Act, the head of the department that carried out the project would be responsible for any mismanagement or wrongdoing. Now, the head of the department and other civil servants are protected from prosecution until the government gives courts its permission to proceed.

The Modi government, which is behind the amendments, has defended them by asserting that they will attract foreign investors. Land acquisition laws for foreign companies have been riddled with red tape and slow bureaucracy. The World Bank rates India 142 out of 189 economies for ease of doing business. Many companies have dropped their investment plans after just a few years because of these impediments.

But lingering concerns remain about the government’s ability to carry out any provision of either the 2013 Act or its amendments. Indian bureaucracy is riddled with corruption, impunity and mismanagement. An estimated 75% of displaced people since 1951 are still awaiting rehabilitation. Many have not been given their due compensation.

– Radhika Singh

Sources: The New Indian Express, The World Bank, One Law Street, One Law Street (2), The Weekend Leader, The Hindu
Photo: The Wall Street Journal

violence in azerbaijan
As the world’s eyes turn to the ongoing struggle and possible ceasefire in Ukraine, another simmering conflict in Russia’s backyard seems to be flaring up. The long contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, which lies in Azerbaijan but which is a self-declared independent nation and comprised of ethnic Armenians, has seen an increase in violence in 2014 and 2015.

The region devolved into a bloody war immediately preceding the fall of the Soviet Union that killed almost 30,000 people and displaced millions more. A ceasefire brokered by the Russians in 1994 left Karabakh and surrounding territories in the hands of Armenians but legally enveloped by Azerbaijan, which lost 14 percent of its territory in the deal.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan has made great strides in socio-economic indicators including hunger, malnourishment, poverty, GDP per capita and the under-five mortality rate. While improvements can still be made, the country is squarely in the Upper-Middle Income country group and has met or is on its way to meeting all of its Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs. Without diversification, however, the economy, which has seen a lot of growth since the early 2000s, may become unstable and create additional social problems.

In its relative state of peace since the turn of the century, Azerbaijan’s poverty rate has dropped from 46.7 percent in 2002 to 8.4 percent in 2011. The economy grew as people felt safe to invest in the country. Hunger very nearly has disappeared from most regions and other indicators are well on their way to the same status. But a rise in violence around the Nagorno-Karabakh region could reverse this progress.

Azerbaijan, claiming a double standard in the West’s handling of Crimea in Ukraine compared to the Nagorno-Karabakh region, has increased its annual defense budget from $177 million in 2003 to $3.4 billion in 2013. It has purchased weapons from Israel, Turkey and Russia. Extra dollars mean not only a militarization in conflict areas, but also an economic focus shift from development to power.

The increased militarization of the Nagorno-Karabakh region and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, coupled with a penchant for violence on both sides, creates “the risk of a war by accident” according to the director of the Regional Studies Center, Richard Giragosian. War in the region could prove to be just as disastrous as last time, forcing millions to flee their homes without promise of return and killing thousands more.

The humanitarian crisis created by war between the two countries could be devastating. Rampant hunger, poverty, displacement and violence among neighboring ethnic groups could reverse the progress made by Azerbaijan in the last two decades. While the threat of open war is relatively low, any increase in violence stokes tensions anew, pushing the region further from peace.

Caitlin Huber

Sources: Economist,  BBC,  UNDP,  Knoema
Photo: The Guardian

land rights
One of the world’s largest food companies recently made landmark commitments to ensure that small-scale farmers and their property are protected from land grabs. More specifically, Nestle committed to a specific set of policy provisions to hold its company and its suppliers accountable.

This new effort is designed to ensure that absolutely no land grabs take place in the harvesting of ingredients for Nestle’s products and that the company harvests products only from places where the land has not been illegally or unfairly taken from their owners.

Furthermore, Nestle has said that it will work to identify opportunities for men and women who currently do not own land to gain property and help support their families. The company will also work to ensure that women who own land will remain secure in their rights and that their rights will be equal to those of men.

These commitments allow Nestle to improve the rights of land owners already incorporated into their supply chain, as well as those who have the opportunity to gain access to land. The company will also proactively identify potential risks to each farmer’s land rights and take steps to reduce or avoid these risks completely.

While these new commitments constitute a very worthy action, Nestle has taken it a step further by advocating for each farmer’s land rights. The company has stated its desire to strengthen its efforts in assisting disadvantaged individuals and indigenous people whose rights are not currently respected or recognized.

Nestle has also announced its support for the U.N. Committee on World Food Security Voluntary Guidelines on Governance of Tenure and will promote development of public information and warning systems to help ensure that rights are respected and that no land grabs take place.

These actions that Nestle has taken are notable and admirable steps toward respecting and protecting the rights of farmers who own land.

Andre Gobbo

Sources: Oxfam, Nestle, FAO
Photo: Oxfam

land grabbing
New research estimates that land grabbed in impoverished areas by wealthy countries and large corporations has the potential to feed up to 550 million people. Close to 80 million of acres of quality land in developing countries have been sold or rented to foreign investors since the year 2000, and this number is set to climb even higher in coming years.

With rising food prices comes an increased demand for cheap land, and this is exactly what has been happening since 2008 when global food prices tripled. Latin America, Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing the most land grabbing. Wealthier countries lacking access to stable food sources buy up cheap plots in these areas, where they cultivate food to be shipped back to their domestic populations.

Many foreign investors are also buying up inexpensive land abroad in order to cultivate plants to be used in the production of biofuel. Huge swaths of land in Gabon, Zimbabwe and Malaysia have been bought up in large scale land grabs, displacing many small farmers and eliminating the food supply of surrounding areas. No policies exist to limit crop export, leaving local food sovereignty dismantled.

Professor Maria Cristina Rulli from Politecnico di Milano in Italy declares that “policymakers need to be aware that if this food were used to feed the local populations it would be sufficient to abate malnourishment in each of these countries, even without investments aiming [increase] yields.”

In many developing countries, especially throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, governments own much of the land. They see these territories as unused and empty, even though local communities may have been cultivating a livelihood there for many generations. Leasing and selling this land is easy money for governments.

Looking past the negatives of land grabbing, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank have pointed out the developmental opportunities provided by this huge level of investment. They propose that the influx of technology and experience could help move local farmers in a better direction, and that improved infrastructure typically accompanies foreign investment. Instead of condemning land grabbing, these international organizations are asking that governments and investors be more inclusive of the voices of local farmers in their land deals.

These voluntary guidelines, however, offer no real protection to locals or accountability structures to the big actors of the buying and selling. Hannah Stoddart, head of policy for food and climate change at Oxfam, observes that “the world already produces enough food for everyone, yet one in eight people go to bed hungry every night … Stronger land rights are crucial to ensure that affected communities do not lose out.”

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: The Guardian, Deutsche Welle, New Scientist
Photo: Farm Land Grab

food security
The green revolution was a period of agricultural revolution that increased food production in the mid-twentieth century. It showed that a global effort can enlarge and develop food systems with new techniques and technology transfers. Lately, with rapid population growth, increasing food prices and climate change, there have been calls for a second green revolution. Here are a few ways that this revolution can be jump-started.

1. Land is at the center of these food security problems. 
While the relationship between people and the Earth has changed immensely, land remains an essential piece to the puzzle. Nate Kline, of the Enabling Agriculture Trade project at Fintrac, said he cannot think of another sector that is more tied to the land. “Land is the chief, primary input in all agricultural production,” he said.

2. More people live in urban areas than rural areas now.
Consequently, cities have to be connected to food distribution cycles that are reliable and can supply food to numbers of people at a dependable rate.

3. The method of organizing land will determine the answers to questions about future food security.
The way international organizations, communities, nations and families decide on organizing land, which will secure land rights and land ownership claims, will be important in answering questions about a food-secure future.

4. Food security is also about how the agricultural sector can become a more dependable way of income for people in rural areas.
The income of the poor is closely related to growth in the agricultural sector. Food security programs usually pursue raising incomes of those in poverty. When land users feel secure that their land will be in their possession however long they want to keep it, then they are more likely to finance the long-term development of their resources and land.

5. Food security often come with better land-use choices.
Conserving water and soil nutrients instead of exhausting resources will make food more secure for the future. It can also mean landholders are keener on paying the costs of equipment and fertilizers which can lead to higher incomes and more profitable crops.

6. When families sell more and better food, those yields generate income to spend for household food needs.
There is a direct connection between the access to land and willingness to make investments that may eventually pay off. With more money from profitable and nutritious crops, families have the option to invest in their nutrition as well as use the money from the crops to buy better equipment and use better management techniques. Food should be nutritious, affordable and part of a sustainable system.

In order to ensure food security, the world will need to engage with a comprehensive set of actors and work with numerous sectors.

– Colleen Moore

Sources: Devex 1, Devex 2
Photo: Eco Tope

Up until about 1990, Mongolia never faced any fears of living in poverty. Rural land specifically, and the large volume of land has been Mongolia’s source of food security and livelihood for centuries.

Mongolia owns approximately 838,853.13 square miles of land in which much of it is desert, but the arable land is quickly becoming depleted, polluted, or turned to desert.

Currently, 33% of people in Mongolia are poor, and over half of the country’s population is living in rural areas. This quickly happened after Mongolia’s large farms became private and hundreds of herders became unemployed and without government benefits.

Most of the rural poor live nomadic lifestyles, moving from area to area with their families in order to feed cattle and find food. Some families live in soums, or villages consisting of multiple families, and some rural families, particularly the nomads, live in tents known as ger. The benefit of living in soums is the ability to obtain some form of education, health services, and essential necessities.

Those living in rural areas rely on their animals for food and making money.

With much of the fertile land being utilized for feeding cattle, there has been a severe increase in land degradation. Mongolia has yet to find strengthening mechanisms for sustainable land management or a method to control desertification. Without these forms of protection, Mongolia is at an increasing risk of losing what little remains of one of their most needed natural resources: fertile land.

Desertification brings with it many struggles; drought and causing land to become irreparable are among the worst-case scenarios. With more and more of the land being overgrazed, little land will be left for agriculture, herding, and living. Mongolia is already naturally a very dry climate with little rainfall and plant growth, which is only worsened by the constant migration, over-cultivated land, and now competition for natural resources.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: Rural Poverty Portal, Scoop World
Photo: Stephane L

Zimbabwe is a low-income country with approximately 72% of the population living below the poverty line. As of 2012, Zimbabwe had a population total of 13.7 million.

Currently, Zimbabwe has been experiencing its worst food crisis in years, leaving 2.2 million people facing hunger in Zimbabwe and in need of food aid. According to Business Day, one of the largest factors in this current food crisis is the amount of farmers who are abandoning production of staple foods like maize, for products with a larger monetary gain, such as tobacco.

Many sources are adamant that Zimbabwe is facing a food crisis, but there are also those who believe that the number of people reportedly going hungry is “exaggerated.” For example Paddington Zhanda, Zimbabwe’s deputy agricultural minister, claims, “There is no crisis. If there [were] a crisis, we would have appealed for help as we have in the past. We are in for one of the best harvests we have had in years.”

Though the harvest has been decent thus far, the UN is asking for donations in order to reach a total of $60 million to help stave off or entirely prevent the increasing hunger in Zimbabwe.


One anonymous source, a senior aid worker, explains that although the rainfall boosted the harvest this year, the many previous years of drought have led the Zimbabwe economy to fall apart, and left the price of farming equipment and food inflated. “[The people of Zimbabwe] are more vulnerable than ever before. With possible good harvests this year, this situation will be a lot better next year, but not now.”

Patrick Chinamasa, Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister, claims that Zimbabwe’s economy will flourish in 2014, leading the rate of growth to increase 3% from the originally predicted 3.4% to 6.4%. His predictions are relying primarily on agriculture and production of food to pull the 2.2 million out of hunger in Zimbabwe, but Chinamasa also mentioned that the government intends to raise diamond sales 5% to help boost the economy and put the Zimbabwe back on solid ground.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: World Bank, Business Day Live
Photo: Bright Hope World

Brazil has the strongest economy in Latin America with an extremely important agricultural and industrial influence, but there is still a large amount of poverty in the country. The main cause of the majority of Brazilian poverty is the problems concerning social exclusion and income inequality, though there have been recent improvements with the distribution of income.

Even though Brazil would be classified as a middle-income country with plenty of natural resources, the human development indicators and poverty levels in the poor rural areas are very similar to those of other impoverished Latin American countries.

Nearly 35% of the entire country lives in poverty with less than two dollars a day, and about 51% of the people living in rural areas experience poverty. Since there are approximately 36 million people living in the rural areas of Brazil, there are around 18 million people in poor rural areas; the most in any country in the Western Hemisphere.

In Latin America, the largest concentration of rural poverty is in the Northeastern region of Brazil with 58% of the region living in poverty.

In the poor rural communities, citizens are deprived of sufficient sewage systems, adequate water supplies, infrastructure and technology, and strong education and health facilities. Women, youth and indigenous people are among the poorest and most vulnerable of the Brazilian rural areas. Many women have the responsibility of managing the family farm as well as taking care of their children because they are either single mothers or their husbands are out looking for work; households like this make up 27% of the rural Brazilian poor. These people are living in poverty mostly because of inequality of land and the lack of access to formal education.

In preparation for the 2016 Olympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian government is taking steps to clean up the city and rejuvenate the area. Though this is good for bringing in revenue from the tourism that will come with the Olympics, the improvements to the city are at the expense of the nearby poor.

Hundreds of thousands have been relocated to make room for the expansion that has begun for the Olympics. The government is expanding the roads and metro lines in addition to renovating the airport in order to make it easier for tourists to travel while in the country.

Many families are offered a proposition by city officials that they really cannot refuse. They can either take a small compensation package or they can simply leave with nothing. If they take the compensation package, they agree to move to a small apartment in a housing project that is very far from where they work, but that is at least better than leaving without any compensation whatsoever. Often times, housing projects like these cannot continue to be maintained because the people living in them do not have the money to pay maintenance fees, so these people are not necessarily making improvements to their lives by moving.

There are varying numbers of how many people have been moved out of their homes, but Amnesty International claims around 19,200 families in the Rio de Janeiro area alone have been forced to relocate since 2009. Rio authorities, on the other hand, claim to only be relocating 278 families that are living where the Olympic Village is being built. There is a large gap between these numbers and it is seemingly the poor that are ultimately paying for the big events to come in Brazil.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: Guardian Liberty Voice, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: The Republic

A project called Hungry Planet depicts what an average family consumes in a week. Ranging from $325 in Germany to $1.23 in Chad, food costs are based on many factors including environment, culture and economy.
An average family in the United States spends about $150 per week on food, according to a 2012 Gallup poll. Hungry Planet depicted a few American families who spent various amounts per week ranging from $341 in North Carolina to $242 in Texas and $159 in California.

The United States Department of Agriculture performed a study in 2011 that revealed what Americans eat. The results include: 632 pounds of dairy products, 415 pounds of vegetables, 273 pounds of fruit and 183 pounds of meat and poultry. Perhaps the most shocking result is that Americans consume 141 of sweeteners and 53 gallons of soda in a year. Of the 415 pounds of vegetables that Americans consume, 29 pounds are french fries.

In Kuwait, the average four-person family spends the equivalent of $221 per week on food. Because most of the land in Kuwait is not well-suited for agriculture due to soil infertility, water scarcity, unfavorable climate or lack of a trained labor force, much of the food comes from the water. Fish and crustaceans are plentiful in the Persian Gulf, but most of the food commodities are imported.

Those in Mali spend the equivalent of $26 per week on food, which consists mainly of rice, millet, sorghum, fish and vegetables. An Emergency Food Security Assessment conducted by the Government of Mali revealed that three out of four households in northern Mali are moderately to severely food insecure.

Chad, a country where people are barely spending the equivalent of one dollar per week on food, is heavily reliant on external assistance. Agriculture and farming is hindered by erratic rains, cyclical droughts and poor farming practices. A 2011 drought left the country in a severe food crisis in 2013.

Food insecurity is connected to education and environment. In Chad, access to basic education is limited, with an enrollment rate of 36 percent and adult literacy rates of 21 percent for women and 43 percent for men.

Improved literacy is one factor in increasing the understanding of agricultural and sustainable practices, which can increase food production. Advanced technologies to control excessive rains or draughts also benefit farming practices. When policies aimed at enhancing agricultural productivity are combined with education and climate control technologies, the effect will be a positive change to create more vibrant markets, employment opportunities and economic growth.

– Haley Sklut

Sources: Time, USDA, GALLUP, Our Africa, World Food Programme, UN-FAO
Photo: Time

land grabbing
Natives of Ethiopia’s Omo River Valley are having their way of life threatened by state-run land grabbing projects designed to develop the area. The valley consists of the traditional lands of the Bodi tribe, which is being forced into government-run villages. These natives have no one to help them; the government’s wants only destroy their land.

Much of the development is being allocated to state-run sugar plantations. In the last 15 months, most of the tribe’s traditional lands have been wiped out. The repercussions of the government’s move will likely affect more than just the 7,000 members of the Bodi tribe.

The development consists of the construction of not only sugar plantations, but a large dam within the Omo River basin. The construction of the dam is projected to be the most devastating of the government projects. It will take the majority of the water present in the river basin with the potential to affect over 500,000 Ethiopians.

No social impact studies were done prior to the implementation of the project, the consent of the tribes occupying the river valley was not obtained and absolutely no one has received any type of compensation for the hardship endured by the forced relocation.

The dam, named Gibe III, will be responsible for adjusting river flows to aid commercial agriculture in the valley. Some believe that this will cause a severe shortage within neighboring bodies of water.

Lake Turkana is situated nearby and is expected to experience a severe drop in its water level. Some are expecting the further development of sugar plantations to result in a water level drop of 16 to 22 meters.

Due to the project’s controversial nature, it has failed to receive funding from many institutions outside of Ethiopia. The World Bank, African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank all decided not to fund the project. However, China’s Industrial and Commercial Bank (ICBC) has come through to provide funds.

Sadly, the development of the Omo River Valley is just a footnote in the long list of human rights abuses the Ethiopian government has inflicted upon its people. The government routinely makes a sham out of its “democracy” with one party winning elections time and time again despite the presence of other political parties.

Criticism of the government is routinely punished. Many journalists have been tossed in jail for simply highlighting government abuses. One journalist, Eskinder Nega, received an 18 year jail sentence for criticizing the government. There are also frequent crackdowns against the Muslim minority who have peacefully protested for the freedom to worship.

There does not seem to be much the average Ethiopian can do to evade the impact of this land grabbing development project. Barring intervention by diplomatic forces outside, the Chinese-backed development project will go on as planned and thousands of innocents will suffer for it.

– Zachary Lindberg

Sources: The Huffington Post, Human Rights Watch
Photo: Any Uak Media