India figures among the top three countries in the world which have bought or leased land in other countries, which critics liken to a new form of “colonial land grab”. Between 2000 and 2012, Indian firms have acquired almost 7.4 million hectares in 129 separate deals. It acquired these tracts of land for agriculture, forestry for wood or fibre, industries and mineral extraction, including petroleum.
Indonesia tops the list over the same period, with 8 million hectares in just 10 deals, followed by Malaysia, with marginally less. Below India ranks the US, with just over 4 million hectares, followed by China and the UK.
Paradoxically, India also figures among the 10 top countries in which other countries have bought or leased land. As many as 4.6 million hectares have been transacted in 113 separate deals, as of April this year.
This is the first time that land deals by Indian firms outside the country and within India have been documented. The Worldwatch Institute in Washington DC, a global environmental think-tank, reports that India is among the three emerging economies, along with Brazil and China, that is “grabbing” the most land elsewhere.
Worldwatch bases its report on the data put out in April this year by the Land Matrix project — a coalition of 45 NGOs — which has released the largest data base of such transactions, covering 1,006 deals over 70.2 million hectares.
Among the Indian companies are Reliance Industries and Reliance Infrastructure, Vedanta Alumina and Vedanta Sterlite Industries, Tata Motors, Adani, Jindal Power and Steels. There are many public sector and state-owned enterprises who also figure in such deals.
Given the European Union’s target to use renewable energy for 10 per cent of the fuel used in transport by 2020, there is a big drive all over the word to grow jatropha. Mission NewEnergy, an Australian company, has taken up contract farming in India for this reason. The spike in world food prices in 2008 also lead to the large-scale acquisition of land to grow crops.
Worldwatch notes: “In several cases — namely South Africa, China, Brazil and India — there is an overlap between investor and target countries. Yet most of the data paint one of two pictures. First, there is new ‘South-South’ regionalism, in which emerging economies invest in neighbouring, culturally-affiliated countries.” In Asia, this accounted for 57 per cent of the land acquisitions.
The Land Matrix database contains an in-depth analysis of large-scale agricultural land transactions that entail a transfer of rights to use, control or own land, that have been concluded since the year 2000. It particularly focuses on (i) land acquisitions or investments targeting the Global South and Eastern Europe; (ii) transnational deals, excluding deals where only domestic actors are involved; (iii) and deals where the envisioned land use is agricultural.
However, as the report shows, the ‘global land rush’ is anything but a simple phenomenon. It involves a large number of target countries with very different investment conditions, as well as a great variety of actors with diverse investment motives. Each land deal has its own specific characteristics. While the report gives an overall overview of the phenomenon, it also endeavours to present an in-depth picture of the different large-scale land transactions’ specificities, according to the Land Matrix website.
A special recent issue of The Journal of Peasant Studies in the UK has studied 17 such transactions in Africa, Asia and Latin America. One of the editors, Melissa Leach writes: “Across the world, ecosystems are for sale. For example, supporters of the Nature Conservancy and the African Wildlife Foundation are now invited to ‘adopt an acre’ — or perhaps 50 acres (20.234 hectares) — for $1,750 in order to protect valuable wildlife heritage from human-induced degradation.
“The web portal, Ecosystem Marketplace, offers information updates and investment and price trend data on carbon, water and biodiversity markets,” she continues. “It states: ‘We believe that... markets for ecosystem services will one day become a fundamental part of our economic system, helping give value to environmental services that, for too long, have been taken for granted.’ The aim of the information portal is to ‘spur the development of new markets’ and ‘facilitate transactions’.
“These are all examples and dimensions of ‘green grabbing’ — the appropriation of land and resources for environmental ends,” she writes. “This is an emerging process of deep and growing significance. The vigorous debate on global ‘land grabbing’ already highlights instances where green credentials are called upon to justify appropriations of land for food or fuel — as where biofuels are promoted as ‘low carbon’ energy solutions, or large tracts of land are acquired not just for ‘more efficient farming’ or ‘food security’, but also to ‘alleviate pressure on forests’”.