Land purchases by foreign investors in poor countries and the growing use of biofuels are pressuring agricultural farmland and pushing 500 million small farmers towards hunger, a UN envoy said on Oct. 21.
Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, said the combination of environmental degradation, urbanization and large-scale land acquisitions by foreign investors formed an “explosive cocktail” for small farmers.
“The plots cultivated by smallholders are shrinking year after year. Farmers are often relegated to soils that are arid, hilly or without irrigation,” he said in a new report.”This poses a direct threat to the right to food of rural populations.”
Each year, up to 30 million hectares (74 million acres) of farmland are lost due to severe degradation, conversion to industrial use and urbanization.
On top of that, more than a third of large-scale land acquisitions – which last year reached some 45 million hectares – are intended to produce biofuels.
The problem of land rights and ownership is particularly acute in Africa, where 90 per cent of the land being targeted by investors is not legally documented.De
Schutter said that transplanting western concepts of land property to developing countries through land registration and individual titling may backfire, benefiting local elites or foreign investors rather than farmers.
“Rather than focusing on strengthening the rights of landowners, states should encourage communal ownership systems, strengthen customary land tenure systems and reinforce tenancy laws to improve the protection of land users,” he said.