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BRIEFING  - January 30, 2013

To learn more about the Millenium Development Goals, click on the graphic

Read the summer edition of the newsletter “Dominicans at the UN” (PDF)

Past Briefings:

December 19, 2012
Recommit to the pursuit of peace and justice

December 5, 2012
Climate change is our responsibility, here and now

November 16, 2012
Human trafficking: ‘We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers’

October 17, 2012
Observing World Food Day, every day

September 26, 2012
Setting goals to foster sustainable human development

September 12, 2012
Ameliorating food insecurity by attenuating climate change

August 29, 2012
Nuclear weapons are roadblock to global peace and security

July 11, 2012
Reflection on my time at the UN

May 30, 2012
World Environment Day is June 5

May 16, 2012
‘35 days to the future we want’: RIO+20 is June 20–22

April 18, 2012
Happiness and wellbeing: Defining a new economic paradigm

April 4, 2012
Dominican NGO news from a visiting correspondent

March 7, 2012
Group works to raise awareness of plight of rural women

Land grabbing violates human rights, impacts environment

By Kati Garrison, Dominican Volunteer

An emerging topic of discussion and concern amongst NGOs at the United Nations is that of land grabs. In essence, land grabbing denotes the seizure of power to control land and the resources it contains (e.g., water, minerals, forests) in order to preside over the benefits of its use. According to the Transnational Institute of Policy Studies (TNI), “[L]and grabbing is essentially control grabbing,” and the desire for capital and profit serve as the predominant motivations for the execution of such an acquisition. This hunger for power and profit results in a flagrant disregard for the inherent meaning, utilization, and management of the land that are embedded in the local community. Again, TNI sums it up best:

The global land grab is therefore an epitome of an ongoing and accelerating change in the meaning and use of the land and its associated resources… from small-scale, labour-intensive uses like subsistence agriculture, toward large-scale, capital-intensive, resource-depleting uses such as industrial monocultures, raw material extraction, and large-scale hydropower generation—integrated into a growing infrastructure that link extractive frontiers to metropolitan areas and foreign markets.

It is important to note that land grabbing does not constitute a new phenomenon. Countless examples of land grabbing exist throughout human history (i.e., the dispossession of land of the native peoples of North America and Australia). So what distinguishes land grabbing of the past with the contemporary acquisition of land, and why is the need for action an urgent one? Reports of large-scale land acquisitions increased dramatically over the past decade. As detailed by Oxfam, since the year 2000, these deals seized over 227 million hectares of land—an area roughly the size of the entire country of Saudi Arabia!

As the world’s population and its energy and material demands increase, investors seek to secure additional lands for the production of food for export, the manufacturing of biofuels, and mining. When a company invests in land in a developing country, this act in itself does not necessarily create a problem. However, when the obtainment of land leads to ramifications such as a decrease in food production or peoples being kicked off their land, then the acquisition (frequently by means of a long-term lease) amounts to one of significant concern.
Oxfam defines a land grab as any type of land acquisition that:

  • Flouts the principle of free, prior, and informed consent of the land users, particularly indigenous peoples
  • Violates human rights, and particularly the equal rights of women
  • Ignores the impacts on social, economic, and gender relations, and on the environment
  • Avoids transparent contracts with clear and binding commitments on employment and benefit sharing
  • Eschews democratic planning, independent oversight, and meaningful participation

In many circumstances, land sold under the label of “unused” or “underdeveloped” in actuality serves as land for the subsistence farming of families living in conditions of poverty. These, often indigenous, families are essentially bribed with promises of employment and compensation in exchange for signing over the rights to their lands. Yet, it remains imperative to draw attention to the fact that little evidence exists of follow through on these incentives. In fact, episodes throughout history and the past decade illustrate a multitude of broken promises.

In addition, current research indicates that the effects of land grabbing on communities and ecosystems amount to a profusion of negative outcomes. Extensive mining practices degrade the land and deplete natural resources such as forest cover. Damage from large-scale industrial agriculture (i.e., the utilization of fertilizers, pesticides, and intensive farming techniques) significantly deteriorates the quality of topsoil as well as causes serious damage to water sources and local ecosystems through reduction of biodiversity. Furthermore, the loss of homes, livelihoods, and the concomitant increase in food insecurity for the local peoples also incite conflict.

Perhaps the most disconcerting ramification of land grabbing remains the loss of identity of indigenous peoples when they experience the loss of native lands. Often, the spirituality of aboriginal cultures exists as a powerful connection between the person and the land. As elaborated by Tania Major, an Aboriginal Australian, “ If you can imagine one family continuously occupying the same land for 40,000 years or more, using it not just to sustain life but as a place of reverence and worship, where every tree, rock and waterhole had significance, you will get some understanding of the importance of land to indigenous people.”

Presently, most nations have not passed or enacted land rights laws in order to protect the most vulnerable in society from the acts of land grabbing. Thus, civil society has turned to what is termed international soft law, such as the Declaration of Human Rights. Soft law covers international declarations, resolutions, principles, guidelines and etcetera. However, this law is not legally binding—it remains only socially binding if civil society and other actors refuse to remain silent on issues such as land grabbing. On May 11, 2012, the FAO Committee on World Food Security (CFS) endorsed a set of guidelines aimed to assist governments in the endeavor to safeguard the rights of people to own or access land. “The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests in the Context of National Food Security” evolved from an inclusive consultation process, and should be utilized by civil society as a tool to promote sustainable investment and regulation of the occurrence of land grabbing. NGOs need to utilize this framework in order to shape the facilitation of a close link between local communities and both national and international institutions.

For more information on land grabbing and ways that you can make a difference, visit http://www.oxfam.org/en/grow/land.

A Prayer of Care for Creation

God of the universe,
We thank You for Your many gifts -
For the beauty of Creation and its rich and varied fruits,
For clean water and fresh air, for food and shelter, animals and plants.

Forgive us for the times we have taken the earth's resources
for granted
And wasted what You have given us.
Transform our hearts and minds
So that we would learn to care and share,
To touch the earth with gentleness and with love,
Respecting all living things.

We pray for all those who suffer as a result of our waste,
greed and indifference,
And we pray that the day would come when everyone has enough
food and clean water.
Help us to respect the rights of all people and all species
And help us to willingly share your gifts
Today and always. Amen.

- Fiona Murdoch, Eco-Congregation Ireland


Margaret Mayce

Margaret Mayce, OP (DLC/Amityville)
NGO in Special Consultative Status at the United Nations
Dominican Leadership Conference
211 East 43 St. Rm 704
New York, NY 10017
email: Margaret Mayce, OP

Dominican Leadership Conference

Building relationships and collaborating in the mission of preaching the Gospel
29000 West Eleven Mile Road
Farmington Hills MI 48336
248-536-3234 Contact: Executive Director