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A Glengarry Glen Ross look at developing world land grabs

Land, Burkina Faso

You have to hand it to Oxfam International. They often come up with the most entertaining ways to illustrate an issue.

The issue is poor world “land grabs.”

As the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization has noted, rich world investors, governments and even universities are buying up large tracts of land in the developing world these days. This is driven by a number of factors including rich world food security concerns, biofuel ventures or other economic development initiatives.

As the FAO says in its report, these land purchases can be done in ways beneficial to poor communities:

But as governments or markets make land available to prospecting investors, large-scale land acquisitions may result in local people losing access to the resources on which they depend for their food security – particularly as some key recipient countries are themselves faced with food security challenges.

While there is a perception that land is abundant in certain countries, these claims need to be treated with caution. In many cases land is already being used or claimed – yet existing land uses and claims go unrecognised because land users are marginalised from formal land rights and access to the law and institutions.

In this video mimicking Alec Baldwin’s famous “motivational” speech to salespeople at a struggling real estate firm in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, an actor urges his colleagues to get out there and buy up agricultural land in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world

“You buy cheap land used by poor people to feed their families and turn it into something worthwhile, making us rich … We tell the public we’re feeding the world, helping the poor, providing development, carbon credits, blah-blah ….”


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.