Let's assess the human situation here on Earth in the early 21st century, taking the broadest possible view. The population is now comprises 7 billion souls, and continues to grow. As Jeremy Gratham has documented at some length, the world has now entered a food crisis which will effectively never end, yet more and more food is required to feed the growing population.
Due to human development, the Earth is warming, which puts arable land more and more at risk both in the short-term (devastating droughts) and the longer term (dessication and finally, desertification). The same changing climate is putting the world's fresh water at risk, with glaciers melting all over the world, and rainfall patterns changing in ways which disrupt a steady, reliable supply through droughts or deluges.
Production of crude oil, which the world largely depends on for transportation, has flattened out in recent years, which puts great upward pressure on liquid fuel prices. To augment the refinable oil supply, the world has turned to "1st generation" biofuels, production of which require that crops ordinarily used for foodstuffs are now used to grow fuel inputs like corn, soy, sugar cane, jatropha or palm oil. (Jatropha, which was allegedly a miracle source of biofuels, hasn't worked out as planned.)
Thus the three pillars of a growing population, water, food and fuel, are becoming harder to come by, yet are more and more in demand.
What would we expect to happen in a such a situation? Given our good-enough view of Human Nature, which is reflected in a cutthroat global capitalistic system which is taken to be the best way to foster growth of human populations and economies, we would expect the Earth's arable land to be more and more at a premium.
In short, we would expect a Land Grab.
And that is precisely what is happening according to Oxfam's Land sold off in last decade could grow enough food to feed a billion people.
Land the size of the California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico combined was sold off globally in the last decade, enough to grow food for the one billion people who go hungry today, says a new report, from international relief and development organization Oxfam America.
The Oxfam report, Our Land, Our Lives, shows that land deals tripled during the food price crisis in 2008 and 2009 because land was increasingly viewed as a profitable investment. With global food prices again hovering near record levels, urgent action is needed today to stop the threat of another wave of land grabs.
“An area of land the size of Chicago is being sold to foreign investors every two days in developing countries,” said Paul O’Brien, Vice President of policy and campaigns for Oxfam America. “Tens of thousands of poor people are being kicked off their land, often violently, without consultation or compensation.
The World Bank can act today and prevent this from becoming one of the great scandals of the 21st century"...
The report warns that more than 60 percent of investments in agricultural land by foreign investors between 2000 and 2010 were in developing countries with serious hunger problems. However, two thirds of those investors plan to export everything they produce on the land.
About 60 percent of global land deals in the past decade have been to grow crops that can be used for biofuels.
“By implementing a temporary freeze and reviewing its approach, the Bank can set an example to all investors and governments and to help ensure that investors genuinely boost development in some of the poorest communities,” said O’Brien. “Investment should be good news for developing countries, but too often it consigns people to greater poverty, hunger and hardship.”
I suppose the World Bank could act today to prevent this from becoming one of the great scandals of the 21st century, but given the pressures on human development I outlined in the introduction to this post, I seriously doubt they will act to prevent this great ongoing scandal. Call it a hunch
But seriously, when was the last time in human history, when precious resources were at great risk, or were perceived to be at great risk, that humans all sat down together to amicably discuss and settle the matter?
Never! Never has been, and never will be. The rich will take from the poor, especially if there's money to be made—that's why they're rich—or failing that, there will be blood and they will get what they want by other means.
We are witnessing the beginning of the Mother of all Land Grabs. This is it, the Big Kahuna, because in the past, all such resource grabs were local, whereas in the 21st century, humans have overrun the entire planet. This is the Last Land Grab. Everything is at stake now. The humans have anted up, all their money is on the table. The climate, the oil, the food, the water ... this is it — Oh, my!
The good folks at Oxfam are among those calling for a more reasonable approach. They have a conscience, a quality which appears to have dubious survival value in a world of dwindling or threatened resources. If only we did X, implemented reform Y, and so on. If only the World Bank would act to put a stop to this ... scandal.
These Oxfam folks must believe in Progress.
Sorry, the last land grab is not going to have a happy conclusion because such things never do. That's not how humans behave in these situations. And everything that happens now is for keeps, which only serves to cement the deal. Sorry, Oxfam, this is not going to end well.