International Land Grabs and Third World Conflicts

December 13th, 2013 - by admin

Anuradha Mittal and Emily Mattheisen / The Oakland Institute and the Housing and Land Rights Network – 2013-12-13 21:47:44

No Human Rights = No Development
Anuradha Mittal and Emily Mattheisen / The Oakland Institute and the Housing and Land Rights Network

OAKLAND, Calif. (September 26, 2013) — In a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on September 15, 2013, the Oakland Institute and the Housing and Land Rights Network outlined the human rights and international law violations perpetrated by the government of Ethiopia in the name of country’s development strategy.

Drawing clear links between recorded testimonies on the ground and breaches of specific international covenants and articles in Ethiopia’s constitution, the joint submission to the UN Human Rights Council also responds to Ethiopia’s draft National Human Rights Action Plan for 2013-2015.

“Rather than working to build a development strategy grounded in human rights, the Ethiopian government is attempting to hoodwink its human rights record, leaving unmentioned its villagization program and the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation — both used by the government as significant justifications for forced resettlement, arbitrary detentions, and politically motivated arrests,” said Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute.

As previous Oakland Institute reports have chronicled, the Ethiopian government’s efforts to clear land for large-scale foreign investment has entailed widespread violations of human, social, economic, and political rights.

Violations of citizen’s rights to self-determination, housing, land for subsistence production, and free political association — enshrined in the Ethiopian constitution, the Rural Land Administration and Land Use Proclamation, and in United Nations international covenants — are carried out in the name of development.

The joint UPR submission suggests that the ruling party’s ability to implement country’s unpopular villagization program rests in its monopoly on force and dominance over the allocation of humanitarian assistance.

“Authoritarian governance and the methods used in implementing development projects have combined to violate human rights to livelihood and culture for land-based peoples, especially in the peripheral regions,” said Joseph Schechla, Coordinator of the Housing and Land Rights Network.

“Involuntary resettlement, a form of forced evictions, accompanies deprivation of the right to food, including the right to feed oneself, particularly for agropastoralists. On the other hand, the ability to control information and stifle dissent has enabled the ruling party to present a positive face to the international community, which has dubbed Ethiopia a nation in “renaissance,” he continued.

The joint submission presents undeniable evidence that should compel the international community to advocate for a human rights centered development strategy that would benefit all Ethiopians.

Download the joint Oakland Institute/HIC-HLRN submission

Betting on World Agriculture:
US Private Equity Managers Eye Agricultural Returns

Since the food and financial crisis started in 2007, the flow of private capital into farmland and agriculture has grown dramatically globally. While these investments have generated hopes for alleviating hunger and the effects of climate change, evidence also demonstrates that large land deals left unchecked can be detrimental to food security, local livelihoods, and the environment.

This “land rush” involves a wide range of countries and interrelated financial actors, including development agencies, public/private companies, public/private pension funds, endowment funds, sovereign funds, high net worth individuals, private equity firms, hedge funds, and real estate managers, among others.

This report focuses on the role of private investment vehicles that advertise and manage investment opportunities in farmlands and agriculture for investors, such as institutional end investors e.g. pension funds, endowments, foundations, and high net worth individuals.

This secluded and highly unregulated form of investment typically seeks to gain control of private land and farm assets, to resell them at a superior market return after an agreed period of time and/or to generate cash from rents.

It’s 2 am in Africa — Do You Know
What Your Pension Fund is Doing There?

New Report Looks at Private Equity Funds Betting Heavily on Agriculture

OAKLAND, CA (December 4, 2012) — Following the 2007-2008 financial crisis and the collapse of the housing market, private equity funds have found a new lucrative soft commodity market to invest in — farmland. In a short period of time, obscured from public view, the flow of private capital into farmland and agriculture has grown dramatically worldwide.

In recent years, the private financial sector has already invested between $10 to $25 billion in farmland and agriculture with little to no oversight; given current investment trends, this amount might double or triple in the coming years.

Although agricultural funds are portrayed as positive social investment to help alleviate hunger and the effects of climate change, evidence demonstrates that large land deals are often detrimental to food security, local livelihoods, and the environment — yet little is known about the specific firms and funds driving this investment.

“Betting on World Agriculture: US Private Equity Managers Eye Agricultural Returns”, a new report from the Oakland Institute (OI), focuses on the private investment vehicles that advertise and manage investment opportunities in farmlands and agriculture for investors including pension funds, university and foundation endowments, and high net worth individuals.

Based on months of research, involving literature review, interviews with fund managers, and examination of public as well confidential internal documents, the report casts a light on this hidden trend by profiling private investment vehicles that are either based in the US or aggressively promoting farmland and agriculture in the US.

Asking pointed and value-based questions that go beyond the usual terrain of yields and risks, the new report sheds light on the complex world of funds and investment activity and the ethical obligations involved.

By doing so, the report highlights how these funds are managed and the type of investments that are being made in various regions of the world in order to inform concerned citizens, investors, and policy makers about the domestic and international impacts of such investments.

“The large buying power of these groups warrants an investigation into the overall impact of this investment activity on economic development, food production, rights of local communities, and the environment,” said Caroline Bergdolt, coauthor of the report.

“In addition, for those already promoting social and environmental returns to raise funds and garner special incentives from governments, demonstrating a lasting, meaningful impact should be a must. Yet, a lack of information prevails,” she continued.

Considered the next big thing and “[farmland] gold with a coupon,” with some funds aiming to become the “Exxon Mobil” equivalent of the agricultural sector, there is much cause for concern. Within this context, it is particularly troubling that information regarding agricultural and land investments is highly inaccessible, densely layered, and hidden from the public.

In fact, of the 23 intermediaries researched and profiled, including Global Environmental Fund, George Soros, Farm Lands of Africa, and the Westchester Group and Teachers Insurance & Annuity Association — College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF), only five responded to requests for direct contact after the Institute’s repeated attempts.

“The fund managers are not forthcoming around details of investments and in general operate under a veil of secrecy. Some companies use reverse mergers with video game-sounding entities like ‘Kryptic Entertainment’ to create US-based public shells as well as onshore-offshore partnerships,” said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute and coauthor of the report.

“At best, fund managers give lip service to the belief that they are contributing to a win-win situation where they can make enormous amounts of money while contributing to food production and poverty alleviation.”

One CEO, Mark Keegan of Farm Lands of Africa, went so far as to say to OI researchers:
“I have absolutely no doubt that what we are doing here is ‘good’ because of the VERY pressing need for food and the poverty. I am unashamed of wanting to make money from it and super confident that the imperative of profit will succeed where aid-driven ventures have failed. Having said that, I am also aware that success will bring social upheaval. I never stop pointing this out to African governments so that they can plan whilst they have time to think about it.”

Mittal responded, “Planning for and responding to social upheaval isn’t part of the investment strategy or commitment of private equity investing in agriculture. Just like the land deals themselves, it is extremely difficult for concerned citizens, students, teachers, and others to find out about agricultural funds. Public information is limited and fund managers maintain an aura of secrecy. There would be no need to delve into the details of the funds if they weren’t having an adverse — and growing — impact on peoples’ lives.”

The new report looks specifically at intermediaries — venture capital firms, traditional private equity funds, large investment firms with specialized boutique firms or divisions, hedge funds that are evolving into more diverse investment firms, as well as billionaires, large agribusinesses and public pension funds with their own private investment structures — that advertise and manage investment opportunities.

The Oakland Institute has gained a reputation for taking on difficult areas in issues related to land investment after publishing a series of reports and briefs in the last three years. The OI’s findings of further political destabilization, impoverishment, and environmental devastation as a result of these investments has led to this new study on private funds and their outsized consequences and lack of accountability.

With a preface by Dan Apfel, executive director of Responsible Endowments Coalition, this report is clearly responding to a call from citizens who want to know more about where their money is, and what it is doing.

According to the Institute, “We believe that more often than not, when given a choice, and armed with better information, people prefer that their funds are invested elsewhere and not in short-sighted endeavors that have long-term and devastating effects.”

Other Oakland Institute Reports:

Ignoring Abuse in Ethiopia:
DFID and USAID in the Lower Omo Valley

Southern Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley is one of the most culturally and biologically diverse areas in the world, yet the Ethiopian government is transforming more than 375,000 hectares (1450 sq. miles) of the region into industrial-scale plantations for sugar and other monocrops.

A vast resettlement scheme for the local ethnic groups is accompanying these plans, as 260,000 local people from 17 ethnic groups who live in the Lower Omo and around Lake Turkana — whose waters will be taken for plantation irrigation — are being evicted from their farmland and restricted from using the natural resources they have been relying on for their livelihoods.

The plantations are being installed and ethnic and pastoral communities are being forcibly resettled with the help of the Ethiopian military, which has become a central player in the implementation of the Ethiopian government’s development plans.

Forced evictions, denial of access to subsistence land, beatings, killings, rapes, imprisonment, intimidation, political coercion, and the denial of government assistance are all being used as tools of forced resettlement. Meanwhile, international donors have been accused of supporting the programs connected with the resettlement sites.

In response to these criticisms, a group from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) conducted a joint field investigation in the Lower Omo in January 2012.

Although this group heard many credible accounts of abuses connected to the resettlement or “villagisation” program, the official stance of the United Kingdom government has since been to repeatedly insist that the “the Department for International Development was not able to substantiate the allegations of human rights violation it received during its visit to South Omo in January 2012.”

Similarly, the US State Department’s Ethiopia 2012 Human Rights Report released in April 2013 indicates that donors’ visits “did not find evidence to support this claim [of human right violations] during visits.” DFID and USAID also reported this unsubstantiation of allegations of human rights abuses to the Development Assistance Group (DAG), which is made up of 26 of the major aid agencies that donate to Ethiopia including the UNDP, IMF, and the World Bank.

This report provides unique insight into the investigation conducted by the donor agencies in January 2012. In stark contrast with the official discourse, testimony from the affected communities shows that egregious human rights violations have taken place.

The author accompanied the assessment team as its translator and has audio recordings of the interviews conducted in several Lower Omo communities. Transcripts of these recordings, made public with this report, leave no room for doubt that the donor agencies were given highly credible first-hand accounts of serious human rights violations during their field investigation and they have chosen to steadfastly ignore these accounts.

On Our Land: Modern Land Grabs
Reversing Independence in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, with more than 800 indigenous languages and over 600 islands. Among its many natural treasures, a unique asset is its rainforest, the third largest in the world and home to endangered wildlife, plants, and diverse groups of people. Yet a massive land rush is currently taking place in the country.

In recent years, 12 percent of the country — 5.5 million hectares — has been leased out to foreign corporations.

Harvard in Iberá: Investigating Harvard University’s
Timber Plantations in the Iberá Wetlands of Argentina

Harvard University invests large sums of its $32.7 billion endowment in natural resources, including timber plantations, in the developing world. This includes Empresas Verdes Argentinas Sociedad Anonima (EVASA) and Las Misiones, two timber companies that are jointly worth $55.2 million and own 87,884 hectares with pine and eucalyptus plantations in the Iberá Wetlands of northern Argentina.

Development Aid to Ethiopia:
Overlooking Violence, Marginalization, and Political Repression

Ethiopia is a locus of international attention in the Horn of Africa due to both its consistently high rates of economic growth and for its continued problems with widespread hunger and poverty. The nation is also significant for being among the most dependent on foreign aid.

Topping the worldwide list of countries receiving aid from the US, UK, and the World Bank, the nation has been receiving $3.5 billion on average from international donors in recent years, which represents 50 to 60 percent of its national budget.

Herakles Exposed: The Truth behind
Herakles Farms’ False Promises in Cameroon

A new report exposes the significant discrepancies between how Herakles Farms has represented their palm oil plantation project in Cameroon to the public and what it is telling prospective investors and creditors.

Unheard Voices: The Human Rights Impact
Of Land Investments on Indigenous Communities in Gambella

Millions of acres of Ethiopia’s most fertile land are being made available to investors, often in long-term leases and at giveaway prices. Although proponents of these investments call them “win-win” deals, the reality proves much different. To make way for agricultural investment, and through its so-called villagization program, the Ethiopian government has forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of indigenous people from their lands.

This relocation process has destroyed livelihoods. It has rendered small-scale farmers and pastoralist communities dependent on food aid and fearful for their own survival.

Ethiopian officials have also beaten, arrested, and intimidated individuals who have refused to comply with relocation policies. These actions are in direct contravention of Ethiopia’s obligations under international human rights law.

Omo: Local Tribes Under Threat

The Lower Omo Valley in Southern Ethiopia is internationally renowned for its unique cultural and ecological landscape. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Lower Omo Valley contains two national parks and is home to approximately 200,000 agro-pastoralists made up of some of Africa’s most unique and traditional ethnic groups, including the Kwegu, Bodi, Suri, Mursi, Nyangatom, Hamer, Karo, and Dassenach, among others.

Dealing with Disclosure:
Improving Transparency in Decision-Making over
Large-Scale Land Acquisitions, Allocations, and Investments

The surge in large-scale commercial interest in land by domestic, international, private, and public actors has prompted a wide variety of stakeholders to consider how such investments may contribute to, rather than erode, local development priorities.

The emerging body of evidence points to the significant risks of negative impacts on: access to and control over natural resources, household economies, food security, human rights, and the environment.

Special Investigation Phase Two:
Understanding How Land Deals Contribute to
Famine and Conflict in Africa

Phase two of our research on land grabs reveals how bad energy policies and development agendas contribute to famine and conflict in Africa.

Understanding Land Investment Deals
In Africa: South Sudan

On July 9, 2011, the Republic of South Sudan (RSS) became the world’s newest nation. Despite the significant strides that South Sudanese have made since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, South Sudan remains one of the least developed countries in the world.

In order to meet its developmental challenges, the government of South Sudan has begun promoting large-scale private investments as a shortcut to rapid economic development.

Understanding Land Investment
Deals in Africa: Zambia

Agricultural investment in Zambia is on the rise as the government of this Southern African country is quietly marketing and planning the development of at least 1.5 million hectares (ha) of its land.

Abundant supplies of land and water, a “positive” investment climate, and political stability are all touted as incentives for investment. This report contains an analysis of agricultural investment trends in Zambia today.

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