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08 September 2010

World Bank says biofuel mandates are fuelling land grabs

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World Bank report adds to warnings that demand for biofuel is driving the large-scale purchase of agricultural land in developing countries
The World Bank has become the latest institution to link biofuel targets with the recent surge in large-scale farmland purchases in the developing world that has been widely condemned as a "post-colonial land grab".

In a major 164-page report released earlier this week the World Bank confirms that large-scale farmland deals whereby industrialised and emerging economies acquired land in developing countries amounted to around 45 million hectares last year – an increase of more than 10-fold on the average for the previous decade of just four million hectares a year.

The report attributes this land grab to recent food price volatility and the increased demand for land that has resulted from biofuel targets in the US and EU. Specifically, it notes that "biofuel mandates may have large indirect effects on land use change, particularly converting pasture and forest land.

It concludes that the resulting farmland purchases may have some benefits in terms of improved productivity, but warns that they also pose sizable social and environmental risks if deals are not well managed.

"These large land acquisitions can come at a high cost," said World Bank managing director, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. "The veil of secrecy that often surrounds these land deals must be lifted so poor people don't ultimately pay the heavy price of losing their land. With food prices still highly volatile, large-scale land deals are a growing reality in the developing world, highlighting the need for concerted action for the benefit of all parties."

The report recommended that all large-scale land deals should adhere to environmental and social criteria that recognise land rights and allow existing owners to negotiate directly with investors for fair compensation.


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