By Juliet O’Neill

Polochic’s displaced families and peasant farmer organizations fought back with international support, recently securing a commitment from the government to acquire land for the families, to provide food and to implement a development policy in Polochic Valley.

Oxfam is committed to helping hold the government to account on those promises and to shining a light on other vulnerable communities at risk of land grabs around the world and on what can be done to stop the practice.

The Polochic case is just one example of a wave of land grabs in developing countries. The devastating effect on communities has been documented from Uganda and South Sudan to Indonesia and the Philippines, Honduras and Guatemala.

“The current scramble for land is depriving some of the world’s poorest people of the land and water they rely on to survive,” says Oxfam Canada’s Executive Director Robert Fox.

“Very often, land sold as ‘unused’ or ‘undeveloped’ is the land women count on to grow food, fetch water and collect firewood for their families. But because women’s ownership of the land isn’t recognized, it‘s easy for companies to kick them off and deny them compensation. As a result, women’s livelihoods are destroyed and the food security of entire communities is jeopardized.”

The World Bank, which influences how land is bought and sold on a global scale, recently responded by promising more action to improve land governance, to promote policies that recognize all forms of land tenure and to help women achieve equal treatment in obtaining land rights.

One exciting feature of Oxfam’s campaign is a crowd-sourced music video echoing the dislocation and displacement thousands of families experience as a result of land grabs.

Thousands of people from 55 countries submitted nearly 7,000 videos and photographs to produce the video set to an acoustic version of In My Place, a famous track donated by the award-winning British rock band Coldplay.

The video shows people from Argentina and Canada to Egypt and Indonesia moving something favourite, personal or familiar from their home to somewhere it doesn’t belong.

Example: a group of University of British Columbia students at a dining table in the water off a Vancouver beach.
The video was created by award-winning director Mat Whitecross who has directed music videos for Coldplay and the Rolling Stones, among others.

“I felt a huge responsibility to produce something that lived up to the commitment of the fans who had given their time and shared their voices to make real change,” Whitecross said. “My parents were refugees so the issue of displacement, home and belonging are really important to me. I hope that the film helps bring the injustices caused by land grabs to a much wider audience. This is something we should all know about.”

Coldplay is among Oxfam’s most high profile and vocal supporters of the last decade, using their worldwide success to support Oxfam campaigning in over 50 countries.

When Coldplay toured Canada in 2012, more than 150 Oxfam volunteers engaged with fans at performances in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal. They collected thousands of signatures in support of Oxfam’s GROW campaign to stop injustice in the way food is produced and distributed globally.

Internationally, 1,300 Oxfam volunteers gained the support of over 43,000 Coldplay fans and reached out to more than 120 million people online.

Lack of transparency and secrecy that surrounds land deals makes it difficult to get exact figures but it is known that foreign investors have acquired around 33 million hectares of land in poor countries  since 2000. That is equivalent to about half the farmland in Canada.

Oxfam has found that two-thirds of agricultural land deals by foreign investors are in countries with a serious hunger problem. Perversely, little of this land is being used to feed people in those countries, or going into local markets where it is desperately needed. Instead, land is left idle, as speculators wait for its value to increase and then sell it at a profit, or it is used to grow crops for export, often for use as biofuels.

Competition for land will intensify as demand for food increases, as farmland is diverted to biofuel production, as the pace of climate change gathers and as water grows scarcer.

Oxfam calls for a global initiative to improve land rights in poor countries and for greater transparency so that communities are given a voice in land negotiations and fair compensation when the land they depend upon is pulled from under their feet.

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