Dubious Carbon Projects: Small and Medium Scale Farming is Being Squeezed out

Between 2008 and 2022, land prices nearly doubled throughout the world and tripled in Central-Eastern Europe. In the UK, an influx of investment from pension funds and private wealth contributed to a doubling of farmland prices from 2010-2015. Land prices in the US agricultural heartlands of Iowa quadrupled between 2002 and 2020.

Agricultural investment funds rose ten-fold between 2005 and 2018 and now regularly include farmland as a stand-alone asset class, with US investors having doubled their stakes in farmland since 2020.

Meanwhile, agricultural commodity traders are speculating on farmland through their own private equity subsidiaries, while new financial derivatives are allowing speculators to accrue land parcels and lease them back to struggling farmers, driving steep and sustained land price inflation.

Top-down ‘green grabs’ now account for 20% of large-scale land deals. Government pledges for land-based carbon removals alone add up to almost 1.2 billion hectares, equivalent to total global cropland. Carbon offset markets are expected to quadruple in the next seven years.

These are some of the findings published in the new report ‘Land Squeeze’ by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES), a non-profit thinktank headquartered in Brussels.

The report says that agricultural land is increasingly being turned into a financial asset at the expense of small- and medium-scale farming. The COVID-19 event and the conflict in Ukraine helped promote the ‘feed the world’ panic narrative, prompting agribusiness and investors to secure land for export commodity production and urging governments to deregulate land markets and adopt pro-investor policies.

However, despite sky-rocketing food prices, there was, according to the IPES in 2022, sufficient food and no risk of global food supply shortages. Despite the self-serving narrative pushed by big agribusiness and land investors, there has been no food shortage. The increased prices were due to speculation on food commodities, corporate profiteering and a heavy reliance on food imports.

At the same time, carbon and biodiversity offset markets are facilitating massive land transactions, bringing major polluters into land markets. The IPES notes that Shell has set aside more than $450 million for offsetting projects. Land is also being appropriated for biofuels and green energy production, including water-intensive ‘green hydrogen’ projects that pose risks to local food production.

In addition, much-needed agricultural land is being repurposed for extractive industries and mega-developments. For example, urbanisation and mega-infrastructure developments in Asia and Africa are claiming prime farmland.

According to the IPES report, between 2000 and 2030, up to 3.3 million hectares of the world’s farmland will have been swallowed up by expanding megacities. Some 80% of land loss to urbanisation is occurring in Asia and Africa. In India, 1.5 million hectares are estimated to have been lost to urban growth between 1955 and1985, a further 800,000 hectares lost between 1985 and 2000, with steady ongoing losses to this day.

In a December 2016 paper on urban land expansion, it was projected that by 2030, globally, urban areas will have tripled in size, expanding into cropland. Around 60% of the world’s cropland lies on the outskirts of cities, and this land is, on average, twice as productive as land elsewhere on the globe.

This means that, as cities expand, millions of small-scale farmers are being displaced. These farmers produce the majority of food in developing countries and are key to global food security. In their place, we are seeing the aggregation of land into large-scale farms and the spread of industrial agriculture and all it brings, including poor food and diets, illness, environmental devastation and the destruction of rural communities. (Read the full article here on Global Research.)

What is driving unprecedented pressures on farmland and what can be done to achieve equitable access to land? View the Land Squeeze document – see link below.

Countering corporate control of our food system | IPES-Food’s Sofía Monsalve Suárez:

Corporations have long influenced decisions around food, but we have observed that in recent years this influence has increased and deepened. Giant food and farming corporations have managed to convince governments and the UN that they must be central in any decisions on the future of our food.

Communities need a stronger voice in the way our food system runs. We must adjust the unjust decision-making structures around food to shift the balance of power from corporations to communities. (IPES-Food/YT)

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