In a report using sensational and critical language, the Worldwatch Institute is drawing attention to the amount of land investors are buying around the world.
Since 2000, more than 36 million hectares---- an area about the size of Japan---- has been purchased or leased by foreign entities, mostly for agricultural use. Today, nearly 15 million hectares more is under negotiation (www.worldwatch.org) , the organization says today.
"Farmland is lost or degraded on every continent, while 'land grabbing'---- the purchase or lease of agricultural land by foreign interests---- has emerged as a threat to food security in several countries," writes Gary Gardner, contributing author of the Worldwatch Institute's State of the World 2015: Confronting Hidden Threats to Sustainability.
About half of grabbed land is intended exclusively for use in agriculture, while another 25 percent is intended for a mix of agricultural and other uses, the institute says on its website today.
The land that is not used for agriculture is often used for forestry, it says.
“Land grabbing has surged since 2005 in response to a food price crisis and the growing demand for biofuels in the United States and the European Union. Droughts in the U.S., Argentina, and Australia, has further driven interest in land overseas.
"Today, the FAO reports that essentially no additional suitable [agricultural] land remains in a belt around much of the middle of the planet," writes Gardner.
As a result, the institute says, “the largest grabbers of land are often countries that need additional resources to meet growing demands.”
More than half of the land is in Africa, especially in water-rich countries such as the Congo. Asia comes second at six million hectares, mainly from Indonesia.
The largest area acquired from a single country is in Papua New Guinea, with nearly four million hectares, which is more than eight per cent of the country's total land cover, either sold or leased out.
The largest investor country is the U.S. whose investors have acquired about seven million hectares worldwide. Malaysia comes in a distant second, with slightly more than 3.5 million hectares acquired.
The institute also notes that about 20 per cent of aquifers are being pumped faster than they can be recharged by rains, that other farmlands are being lost to salinization and erosion and that climate change is projected to take out up to another two per cent of current farmland every 10 years.