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The Global Land Squeeze

This article is published in collaboration with Statista

by Anna Fleck

Smallholder farmers and communities around the world are experiencing a phenomenon called “land squeeze”, which is exacerbating persistent rural poverty and land inequality. This is the result of a number of pressures, including the consolidation of big farms, which means that as they are getting bigger, many smallholder farmers are left with increasingly fragmented, smaller plots of land. In Asia, overall land inequality has risen by as much as 11 percent since 1980. And on a global scale, land consolidation means 1 percent of the world's largest farms now control 70 percent of all farmland.

These are just some of the findings detailed in the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems’ new report titled Land Squeeze, published Tuesday. The following chart provides a brief overview of some of the key processes leading to land squeeze outlined in the report, from land grabbing and ‘green grabbing’ to the encroachment of different industries on arable land and urbanization, all against the backdrop of the climate crisis.

As a brief summary, land grabbing 2.0 refers to farmland being transferred from farmers to financial actors, whether that’s agribusinesses, investors or foreign governments. Just one of the examples cited in the report is how the food price spikes of the pandemic and the supply chain issues linked to the war in Ukraine have “revived “feed the world” narratives”, which has led to a “renewed push to secure land for export commodity production, with agribusinesses, investors and foreign governments finding new ways to unlock and appropriate farmland.” Green grabbing, however, is when carbon offsetting schemes (such as tree planting initiatives) are used to appropriate land. These projects now account for roughly 20 percent of large-scale land deals.

Expansion and encroachment, on the other hand, are when land is taken from agricultural purposes and used for other, extractive means such as mining or for urbanization and major infrastructure projects. Meanwhile, food system reconfiguration includes the integration of smallholder farmers into corporate value chains. This minimizes smallholder farmers' choices in their practices, which can lead to unsustainable land use.

The issues stemming from these processes, the authors of the report explain, are manifold: “This land squeeze is eroding meaningful access to and control over land for farmers, pastoralists, Indigenous Peoples, and marginalized groups”, they write. “These pressures are critically undermining small-scale food producers’ livelihoods, and pushing them towards a dangerous tipping point – posing grave threats to food security.”

The Land Squeeze report highlights how these ongoing processes are rooted in a long history of dispossession, oppression and discrimination of smallholders, Indigenous Peoples and traditional communities and stem from dominant narratives about how humans should farm and extract from the land.

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