For some, the goal was food security. For others, the expansion of biofuel supplies. However, many not involved in the events view the end results – tens of millions of hectares taken from locals and handed to major foreign interests – as simply a new form of colonialism.
Stefano Liberti, an Italian journalist, has spent considerable time visiting the farm owners, investors, government officials and those forced or bought off their land. In Land Grabbing, he documents the various groups involved, from the officials in African nations falling over themselves to sell the land out from under their countrymen’s feet (sometimes literally for nothing) to the investors and the former Wall Street bankers who have switched their focus from sub-prime mortgages into the lucrative commodities trade.
Those involved in the ‘land grabbing’ argue that the local economies and populations benefit, with modern technology and employment opportunities coming to their regions. It is a conclusion rejected by many, including Liberti, who instead see locals pushed off their land and food supplies sent overseas at a time when the planet’s population is set to grow by 34 per cent over the next 40 years. ‘Former colonies are now independent,’ writes Liberti. ‘But their governments are simply not looking after the interests of their citizens.’
At times, Land Grabbing feels too black and white, with the motives of those taking over the land viewed as wholly selfish, while those on the ground are perceived as defenceless victims. Overall, however, and despite more time spent at conferences than in the fields with those most affected, Liberti shines a light on a little known and barely understood recent phenomenon that could become something much larger in the years to come.
LAND GRABBING: Journeys in the New Colonialism by Stefano Liberti, Verso, £9.99
This review was published in the November 2014 edition of Geographical Magazine