Twenty-First Century Land Grab, As Rich Buy Farm Land In Developing World

With world food demand expected to jump 70% and rising production of biofuels, international investors are gobbling up agricultural land in developing world. But what happens to the rights of local farmers?

A farmer ploughing a field in India (antkriz)
A farmer ploughing a field in India (antkriz)


In other times, the rich and powerful would come to take the land of the poor and force. Now, it seems, land grabs in the developing world are made by simply buying the property.

The member states of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) gathered last week to confront the issue of land ownership in a world facing the globalization of property markets. A study commissioned by the Committee on World Food Security shows that rapidly developing countries are threatening many small-scale farmers by buying more and more land. International investments in agriculture are at an all-time high.

Both established wealthy countries and emerging markets want to ensure their population's food supply beyond what their lands are able to provide. For example, Saudi Arabia has no choice but to resort to foreign investments because of its growing population and its lack of water supplies. The same goes for China, whose inhabitants make increasingly more money and intend to eat accordingly. And the situation is likely to get worse in the next decades. The study predicts a 70% rise in world food demand because of different factors like population growth and globally higher revenues.

The increasing production of biofuels also explains why international buyers are becoming so interested in purchasing agricultural lands, while the 2008 economic crisis also heralded land ownership as a relatively safe investment alternative.

At first, such a demand for land was well received by countries that can't afford to fully develop their agricultural sector. But problems have quickly surfaced: the financial discrepancies between opulent investors and humble states; the fate of local populations, who often live on the land without any property title; and the question of how the benefits should be divided among investors, host states and local communities.

The study advises that more power should be given to the least privileged of the three actors, namely the local communities, by granting a maximum of farmers property rights. The idea is tempting. But putting it into practice may prove a challenge: some communities have already been given titles, but the experience did not solve all the problems.

Read the full article by Etienne Dubuis in Le Temps, in French

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

Photo - antkriz

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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