Competing for Land: Future Trajectories for Rural Development
The question of how to feed a growing global population without further compromising global resources has become perhaps the single most pressing issue of the 21st century. In recent years, concerns over high food prices and food insecurity have propelled investors of various kinds, including national governments, hedge/pension funds, individuals, and corporations to seek out new land for the purposes of producing flex crops (i.e., crops that can be used for multiple purposes, including food, fuel, and industry). Referred to by some as a “global land grab,” investments in land have increased dramatically in the past decade, particularly in less-affluent countries, characterized by what the World Bank calls a “high yield gap” where land is under cultivation but maximum crop yields are not attained. While increased production on land with low productivity may be necessary to sustain a future global population of 10 billion, significant concerns have been raised regarding these new large-scale land acquisitions (LSLA). In particular, community advocates, development practitioners, and researchers have argued that LSLA have thus far tended to benefit investors (often foreign) over local communities, displace small farmers, threaten ecological integrity, and even reduce local food production. In response, opponents have proposed regulatory mechanisms to oversee land investments and championed pro-poor measures. Such measures support small-scale agroecological farming methods that mimic nature to sustain diversified productive landscapes over the long term. Whether LSLA and such pro-poor, small-scale measures are necessarily oppositional, it is clear that the global community needs a multidimensional response to the overlapping problems of low productivity, poverty, ecological fragility, and rural-urban maldevelopment.
This paper was debated at the ISGP conference Food Safety, Security, and Defense: Focus on Food and the Environment, convened in partnership with Cornell University in October 2014.