Tuesday, June 23, 2009

UN Wants to Control the Rush on Agricultural Lands

UN Wants to Control the Rush on Agricultural Lands

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Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Special Rapporteur for the right to food, worries about the rapid expansion of rich government and investment funds' acquisitions and leasing of agricultural lands in developing countries. This practice of land grabbing accelerated under cover of the 2008 food crisis.

Mr. De Schutter deems that the question must figure on the agenda for the agricultural discussions of the G-8, the summit of the world's eight most industrialized countries, in July. He is pushing eleven principles linked to human rights that he believes should serve as the basis for future contracts, as well as a multilateral approach, in order to avoid the threats that hover over local populations.

According to estimates, some 15 to 20 million hectares - the equivalent of all France's arable land - mostly in Africa, has been the object of transactions the last three years. China bought 2.8 million hectares in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to develop the world's largest palm oil plantation there. South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt have acquired in total over 1.5 million hectares in Sudan. Saudi Arabia would like to lease half a million hectares in Tanzania.

Experts estimate that from now to 2030, 120 million hectares of supplementary agricultural lands will have to be found to respond to the demand for food products. "These investments may represent a chance for development, to create infrastructure and employment, and to allow farmers access to technology and credit," notes Mr. De Schutter. "They can also have very negative consequences and threaten the food rights as well as other rights of the populations involved." In the absence of negotiated rules, farmers have been and will be evicted and deprived of access to the resources indispensable for their survival."

The paradox, the special representative points out, is that among the people most expo?ed to food risk are 500 million men and women on whom the future of the planet in large part depends: the salaried workers of the agricultural sector. "Assuring them adequate protection would constitute a major contribution," he believes.

Mr. De Schutter also demands that the investments be coupled with projects of high labor intensity, which would give jobs and income to local groups. They should, moreover, see a part of harvests reserved to put on sale in local markets. The special representative further demands that the principles of sustainable development and of an ecological agricultural approach be respected everywhere.

Only a multilateral approach, he concludes, will allow competition between poor countries desirous of attracting capital to be avoided.

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