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Living beyond our means: Europe must fit within the planetary boundaries and stop land grabbing

For the past few years, investors have been scrambling to take control of farmland in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. EU- and US- based companies and financial institutions made speculative investments. Gulf State officials were flying around the globe looking for large areas of cultivable land that they could acquire. So were Koreans, Libyans, Chinese, Egyptians and others. In most of these talks, highlevel government representatives were directly involved, peddling new packages of political, economic, and financial cooperation, with agricultural land transactions smack in the centre. Governments from Southern countries are under increasing pressure to “develop” and often decisions do not take into account environmental concerns and local livelihoods. The driving forces behind the rush for land are, the demand for more biologically productive land emanating from high-income countries, such as Europe and Japan, and emerging economies, such as Brazil and India, even though they may have more land available per capita than lower-income countries and the finance industry which now sees land as a profitable commodity to invest in or to speculate with.

These are our policy recommendations:

Stop land grabbing as main principle.

  • To avoid land grabbing, the EU (and the Global North in general) must reduce the use of resources (energy and food) to a fair share of the resource available within the planetary boundaries. The EU resource efficiency strategy must be combined with binding targets reflecting this demand.
  • Land grabbing violates basic human rights, individual and collective, and should be made illegal for EU based companies under European law. Where lands have been grabbed they should be returned to the local communities respecting customary rights. Ongoing landgrab projects should be stopped by political intervention.
  • Large scale industrial plantation agriculture cannot be considered as a solution to the world food or energy problem. Governments and development agencies should support, promote and further develop food sovereignty and regional food chains instead. Given the exceeded planetary boundaries for nitrogen and phosphorus, low input agriculture deserves their special support.
  • Europe should prevent that banned agrotoxics/pesticides are commercialized in other countries: land grabbing is often accompanied with intensive use of agrotoxics/pesticides which are causing serious impacts to the environment and health of people, especially rural workers and their families from the Global South.

Land grabbing and financial investments:

  • The EU should take the initiative to amend the OECD DAC guidelines and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises to rule out involvement in or tolerance of land grabbing. EU and Member State’s development cooperation programs, agencies and Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) must set a clear precedent. Their current policies should be reviewed and in case of involvement in or support for land grabbing be reversed urgently.
  • Private sector investment houses, banks and pension funds should be scrutinised for their landgrabbing activities and governments should take it as a central responsibility to act on them. Civil society action to boycott banks involved in land grabbing should be supported by public authorities joining the divestment from such institutions.
  • The EU has taken a first step to limit the use of financial instruments linked to commodities, but the legislation is too weak to be effective. Loopholes such as national limits instead of an EU limit need to be closed as soon as possible.

Land grabbing and production of biofuels:

  • The EU should acknowledge that the promotion of biofuels is undermining the right to food – a necessity under the principle of science- and fact- based policy development.
  • The EU should urgently review its biofuels policy and stop incentivizing biofuels that have adverse impacts on climate change, biodiversity, on hunger and land use. The need for land based biofuels in the EU is driving the destruction of vital ecosystems and carbon stores like forests and peat lands – resulting in many biofuels causing even more greenhouse gas emissions than the fossil fuels they replace.
  • It is hence of paramount that the EU, as a minimum, limit the contribution of those biofuels to the 10% transport target set for 2020 at current consumption levels and scrap those mandates for post 2020.

Read more in the 4 page EJOLT briefing on landgrabbing

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