Land grabs 101

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What are land grabs?

There’s no one definition, but typically its defined as the control of large plots of land, often agricultural plots that displace existing farmers and traditional communities, but there’s a diversity of contexts around land grabs.

Working definition

land grabs: the control of larger than locally-typical amounts of land, legal or illegally, for speculation, extraction, resource control, or commodification at the expense of local communities (often peasant farmers), land stewardship, food sovereignty, and human rights (read more at ).

Who does land grabs and why? Institutional investors, money, and settlers

The 2007 financial crisis kicked off contemporary land grabs largely financed by Global North wealthy pension funds, like the Harvard Management Corporation, who took advantage of the opportunity to buy vast amounts of land—often in the hundreds of thousands of hectares—from places where land prices were relatively low, such as Brazil, the Ukraine, Argentina, and Zambia. Some of their reasons include
Speculation: waiting for the land value to go up and then sell it
Extraction and resource control: using the land and the people living/working on it to gain resources, such as timber (what Harvard does), grains, and cattle

How are land grabs harmful to communities?

Basically, imagine you’ve been living on your land farming for generations, when suddenly you’re kicked out of your home by an industrial farming corporation, funded outside of your community. Or a shadow corporation secretly purchases all the land in your community. It’s something that historically and continues to disproportionately affect indigenous peoples. People sometimes lose their land, often through intimidation and violence, or are forced into contract farming (why does this sound like sharecropping?). Often, industrial farms established by the land grabbers will poison or drain the water supply, release environmental toxins that result in cancer, and more (yes, these are all things that Harvard’s land grabs have done).

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