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Land acquisitions

Dr Bernadette Resurrección, Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) Asia, talks about ‘Land Grabbing’, a troubling trend in the region.
Now in recent years, a very interesting trend has been taking place, and that is the trend of huge land acquisitions that actually today service sites for food and fuel production. This is actually referred to as intensification of commodification and consolidation of land. In 2008, we experience a global recession, and as a result, there was a need to boost food production. Food prices had gone considerably up, considerably higher. Investor countries, such as China and Saudi Arabia, were on the lookout for vast tracts of land for food production. Who were the drivers behind these huge land acquisitions? You had foreign investors, as well as private capital, large corporations.
But also within countries themselves in Southeast Asia, you had local investors as well as political elites, big merchants, who were behind these huge land acquisitions.
Therefore, small-holders and their small protected parcels of land became vulnerable. Together with common land, such as forests, peatlands, and wetlands, they became vulnerable to huge appropriations and land agglomerations, largely for the purpose of producing both food and fuel. As a result, there were increasing water and land grabs, as we call it today. However, not all land grabs resulted in dispossession of small land holdings of local people. There were certainly exclusions and dispossession, but also unfavourable inclusions, such as the employment of local people on very onerous terms of employment, such as low wages and insecure terms of employment, such as, for instance, in contract farming. Now what are the gender fault lines in the huge acquisitions of land?
First, because of the consolidation of land for fuel and food production, this certainly meant new employment opportunities. But these new employment opportunities were basically gender stratified, so you had a situation where more better jobs went to the men. The better paying jobs actually went to the men. Women no longer had access to their traditional food croplands, relying more on labour wages from contract farming, for instance. And therefore, they had to use their wages to purchase food instead of growing food themselves. The dispossession of common resources, such as forests, for instance, actually reduces women’s access to forest food resources– edible plants and mushrooms, for example– that usually serve to buffer critical or lean periods when food is scarce.
That is increasingly under threat. The trend of huge land acquisitions today needs further research, especially on its long term effects, on whether men and women can actually attain equal levels of food security for themselves and for their households, or whether current levels of food insecurity will be exacerbated. These are issues that are transboundary in nature. And today, there are efforts to actually put in place mechanisms to address the fact that decisions made in one territory can affect people from across the border. One example, for instance, would be putting in place a transboundary standard for huge rural industries and land acquisitions that accompany these industries.
There are groups now trying to put in place environmental impact assessments that would cover transboundary areas and therefore require states to comply with agreed upon standards for huge scale investments and development.
In this video Dr Bernadette Resurrección, of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) Asia, talks about recent large-scale acquisitions of land for food and fuel production, often referred to as “land grabs” in Southeast Asia – a growing trend with significant social and environmental impacts.
Bernadette discusses what is driving these land acquisitions and the complex implications of this trend for local and national actors, including governments and farmers, when the land and resources in question are owned and utilized by a foreign country or company.
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Food and Our Future: Sustainable Food Systems in Southeast Asia

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