Soaring land prices, land grabs, and carbon schemes are creating an unprecedented ‘land squeeze’, threatening farmers and food production, according to a new report today (Monday, May 13).
Global land prices on rise for more than 2 decades

The publication is by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food).

The report comes as land issues rise up the global agenda – with a recent World Bank report on net-zero in food systems calling for measures to reduce the conversion of forests to croplands, and as Brazil launches an agrarian reform policy to allocate land for 295,000 families by 2026.

The IPES-Food has said that the study exposes the “alarming escalation of land grabbing” in various forms, including through ‘green grabs’, opaque financial instruments and speculation, rapid resource extraction, and intensive export crop production.

Global land prices on the rise since 2022. Source: IPES-Food

Land around twice the size of Germany has been snatched up in transnational deals worldwide since 2000, according to the report.

Major new pressures are emerging from ‘green grabs’ for carbon and biodiversity offset projects, conservation initiatives, and clean fuels, the report also highlighted.

Huge swathes of farmland are being acquired by governments and corporations for these ‘green grabs’ – which now account for 20% of large-scale land deals.

Governments’ pledges for land-based carbon removals alone add up to almost 1.2 billion hectares, equivalent to total global cropland. Carbon offset markets are expected to quadruple in the next seven years.

Land prices

This global trend of land grabs and green grabs is particularly affecting sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, while land inequality is growing fastest in Central-Eastern Europe, North and Latin America, and South Asia, the report indicated.

70% of the world’s farmland is now controlled by just 1% of the world’s largest farms.

In Latin America, the smallest 55% of farms occupy just 3% of land. The report outlined that between 2008 and 2022, land prices nearly doubled globally – and tripled in central-eastern Europe.

In the UK, an influx of investment from pension funds and private wealth contributed to a doubling of farmland prices from 2010-2015 according to the expert panel.

They explained that nearly 45% of all farmland investments in 2018, worth roughly $15 billion, came from pension funds and insurance companies.

As demand for land continues unchecked, the panel of experts said the ‘land squeeze’ is inflaming land inequality and making small- and medium-scale food production increasingly unviable – leading to farmer revolts, rural exodus, rural poverty and food insecurity.

Farmers, peasants, and indigenous peoples are losing their land (or forced to downsize), while young farmers face significant barriers in accessing land to farm, the report has claimed.

The IPES-Food expert panel calls for action to:

  • Halt green grabs and remove speculative investment from land markets;
  • Establish integrated governance for land, environment and food systems to ensure a just transition;
  • Support collective ownership and innovative financing for farmers to access land;
  • Forge a new deal for farmers and rural areas, and a new generation of land and agrarian reforms.

Susan Chomba, IPES-Food expert, Kenya, said: “Land isn’t just dirt beneath our feet, it’s the bedrock of our food systems keeping us all fed.

“Yet we’re seeing soaring land prices and grabs driving an unprecedented ‘land squeeze’, accelerating inequality and threatening food production.

“The rush for dubious carbon projects, tree planting schemes, clean fuels, and speculative buying is displacing small-scale farmers and Indigenous Peoples.”

Nettie Wiebe, IPES-Food expert, Canada, added: “Imagine trying to start a farm when 70% of farmland is already controlled by just 1% of the largest farms – and when land prices have risen for 20 years in a row, like in North America.

“That’s the stark reality young farmers face today. Farmland is increasingly owned not by farmers but by speculators, pension funds, and big agri-businesses looking to cash in.

“Land prices have skyrocketed so high it’s becoming impossible to make a living from farming. This is reaching a tipping point – small- and medium-scale farming are simply being squeezed out.”

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