Land inequality as a barrier to Development

A recent report by Oxfam highlights the problem of the increasing concentration of land ownership into the hands of corporate global agribusinesses.

Historically land ownership in the colonial period was very unequal, it became more equal in the post-colonial era due to various land-reform programmes, but since the 1980s land ownership has become more unequal again, primarily driven by global agribusiness buying up huge tracts of land for mass-scale farming oriented to the global export market.

70% of all land globally is now controlled by just 1% of the population.

While this has meant cheaper food for consumers in the West, it has also had negative consequences for hundreds of millions of people in the developing world who have to live with the consequences:

  • There is less common land for indigenous peoples – be they pastoralists in Africa or forest hunter gatherers in Latin America. This puts traditional ways of life under threat
  • Intensive farming employs fewer people so this leads to local unemployment and urbanisation as people migrate to find work which doesn’t exist in cities.
  • It degrades the local environment.

Solutions

The report notes different ‘levels of solution’ – from demanding more corporate responsibility and governments enforcing minimum working standards for agribusiness to the more drastic measurements of land reform – actually giving land back to ordinary people to farm on a small scale basis.

Relevance of this to A-level sociology

IMO this is one of the most important global development reports there is – it reminds us of the bigger picture in globalisation more generally – the world is becoming more interconnected and more and more people want a greater variety of cheap food.

Global agribusinesses have emerged to meet this demand and established themselves in several developing countries, buying up or leasing huge tracts of lands to mass produce the meat, grains, and fruit n veg we consumers want.

We get cheap food but at the cost of increasing land inequality, poverty, unemployment, forced migration to cities, the decline or indigenous cultures and depletion of the environment.

It’s a stark reminder of how the most basic need for food for some can lead to negative gloablisastion.

It’s also a good example of how neoliberal forms of globalisation don’t work effectively – leave food production to global market forces and look at the mess!

Maybe what we need for sustainable food production is more local food systems, and LESS globalisation?

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