SUBSCRIBE

Breaking News on Food & Beverage Development - EuropeUS edition | Asian edition

Headlines > Science & Nutrition

'Land grabbing' could help feed at least 300 million people, study suggests

3 comments

By Nathan Gray+

30-Jun-2014
Last updated on 30-Jun-2014 at 12:08 GMT

'Land grabbing' could help feed at least 300 million people, study suggests

Crops grown on "land-grabbed" areas in developing countries have the potential to feed an extra 100 million people worldwide, new research has suggested.

Improved infrastructure brought about by foreign investment could increase the productivity of subsistence farmlands in countries like Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and could mean these lands can feed at least 300 million people around the world. This is compared to about 190 million people that could be fed if the land was left tended to by the local population, say researchers writing in Environmental Research Letters.

"Our study has provided a comprehensive assessment of the amount of food that can potentially be produced in land acquired by foreign investors in countries such as Sudan and Indonesia,” explained the researchers behind the study.

Le by Maria Cristina Rulli from Politecnico di Milano, Italy, and Paolo D'Odorico from University of Virginia, USA, the team noted that the large-scale acquisition of land by foreign governments and business — more commonly known as land grabbing — is a contentious issue, particularly in Africa where a large number of deals have taken place in regions facing food security problems and malnutrition.

Some argue that investment by foreign governments and business will drastically improve crop yields, generate new jobs and bring new knowledge and infrastructure to often deprived areas. Others highlight the fact that any food grown is often exported to other regions and argue that such deals can strip local communities of their land, water and natural resources, leaving them in a far worse state.

"Policy makers need to be aware that if this food were used to feed the local populations it would be sufficient to abate malnourishment in each of these countries even without investments aiming at the closure of the yield gap. Such investments would lead to substantial improvements in crop yields mainly in African countries.”

‘Land-grabbing’ research

The research team set out to quantify the maximum amount of food that could be produced from crops grown on acquired lands and the number of people that this could feed. They also compared the use of traditional farming techniques to industrialised agricultural methods, to come up with the yield gap.

By using a unique dataset of all land deals greater than 200 hectares occurring after 2000, the researchers mapped the spatial extent of the acquired land, the dominant crop, and whether a deal was concluded with a signed or oral contract, or just intended with an expression of interest.

From this, they calculated the potential maximum crop yield from each of these deals and then used the crop's food calories to determine the amount of people it could feed.

If all of the acquired lands were farmed to their full capacity (a 100% closure of the yield gap) the team found that there would be a 308% increase in rice production, a 280% increase in maize production, a 148% increase in sugar cane production, and a 130% increase in oil palm production.

Taking into account the proportion of crops that can be used for food production, as well as the amount needed for a "balanced diet", the results showed that between 300 and 550 million people could be fed by crops grown in the acquired land, compared with between 190 and 370 million people that could be fed if the local community used the land without making major investments, the team calculated.

"At the moment there are still open questions which would help inform the debate over what happens to acquired land such as, what happens to food produced? Is it shipped abroad? Were these lands already used for agriculture prior to the acquisition, and (if so) for the cultivation of what crops? With what yields?” noted the authors. “Answers to these questions would allow us to quantify the decrease in food available to the local communities, and come up with management strategies to mitigate possible negative impacts on the local communities of large scale land acquisition."

The team also revealed that the most targeted countries for ‘land grabs’ are Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and the former Sudan. Together, these nations account for around 82% of the total food calories that can be produced by acquired croplands worldwide, the research found.

Source: Environmental Research Letters
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/9/6/064030
“Food appropriation through large scale land acquisitions”
Authors: Maria Cristina Rulli and Paolo D'Odorico

Subscribe to our FREE newsletter

Get FREE access to authoritative breaking news, videos, podcasts, webinars and white papers. SUBSCRIBE

3 comments (Comments are now closed)

It is not a lack of of food that causes hunger

There is plenty of studies (for example by FAO), which indicate that global food production has been increasing faster than the global population growth in the past decades and that current food production could feed 10 billion people. Despite this excess, there are still a billion people worldwide who go hungry. It is not a matter of producing more, it is a matter eradicating poverty and distributing food equally. It is a fact that a majority of land that is grabbed is used to grow biofuels, animal feed for the world’s excessive meat consumption and crops for export. It is not the local communities that benefit from these land grabs, but their food security and food sovereignty situation is rather worsened.

Report abuse

Posted by Alle
02 July 2014 | 10h13

Land grabbing as a viable option is Ignorance at best

" Taking into account the proportion of crops that can be used for food production, as well as the amount needed for a 'balanced diet', the results showed that between 300 and 550 million people could be fed by crops grown in the acquired land, compared with between 190 and 370 million people that could be fed if the local community used the land without making major investments..."

This is complete and utter nonsense given the advances in small space crop production using technologies like aquaponics. Or take a look at the permaculture science of Geoff Lawton. You do not need corporate intervention to institute productive agricultural methods.

Look at how Geoff Lawton successfully initiated reversal of desert conditions on a plot of land in Jordan (the site where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed) without machines, tremendous amounts of water, nor industrial chemicals:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0UNYGi4v8Q

To write an article pushing a one-sided argument for the acquisition of land by destructive corporations is ignorant, at best. Where is the argument in support of the people retaining their land? Where is the argument against the biased proposals of ERL?

Why is it that the only crops in consideration (Corn, Rice, Sugar Cane, Palm Oil) are all crops that are processed and used heavily in the American diet? When American diets consist predominantly of processed results of these crops amongst others like Soy and Sugar Beet, how are they considered examples of nutrition and health??

Where is the fact considered that the current method of pesticide and chemical fertilizer laden, corporate mass agriculture is actually stripping the land of its viability?

http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/footprint/agriculture/impacts/soil_erosion/

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/07/02/fertilizer.aspx?e_cid=20130702_DNL_JLY4DNOMIN_JLY4BAN_art_1&utm_source=dnl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=art1&utm_campaign=20130702JLY4DNOMIN

http://grist.org/article/2010-02-23-new-research-synthetic-nitrogen-destroys-soil-carbon-undermines/

To the readers, these few examples scratch the surface. There is a lot more to what I'm talking about and all of that information is available for you on the internet.

To the author, I do not make accusations of foul play or conspiracy. I hold you responsible for being ignorant of your due diligence as a proper balanced and well researched journalist. I apologize however if you simply desire to be a regurgitator of limited and obviously biased information.

Report abuse

Posted by Tutor Veridicus II
30 June 2014 | 20h42

Land grabbing is not socially responsible

There is not guarantee that land grabbing production will feed the local population and improve their livelihood. What is more important, it strips the locals from the productions means, which will be in the hands of others, leaving the locals in dependency. A fair play would be a partnership for using the land to produce with the local population, leaving the ownership of the land with them.

Report abuse

Posted by Augusto C.M. Freire
30 June 2014 | 14h37