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The Landgrabbers: The New Fight Over Who Owns The Earth [Hardcover]

Fred Pearce
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

24 May 2012

Right now, an unprecedented land grab is taking place around the world. Every day, parcels of land - the size of Wales and larger-are being gobbled up across the plains of Africa, paddy fields of South-east Asia, jungles of the Amazon and prairies of Eastern Europe.

The raiders are the ultra-rich Gulf oil sheikhdoms, Russian oligarchs, Chinese entrepreneurs, jumpy governments worried about food security in an ever more populated world, and financial speculators looking for the next big investment opportunity.

The victims are subsistence farmers around the world, whose title to the land they work is uncertain and whose power to prevent their governments selling it from beneath them very small.

Following the trail from the boardrooms and ministries to the victims themselves, The Landgrabbers lifts the lid on the most profound ethical, environmental, economic and social issue in the world today.

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Price For All Three: £32.14

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Eden Project Books (24 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 190581173X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1905811731
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.4 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 427,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Brilliant: Fred Pearce has lifted the lid on an issue that has yet to register with most people. Anyone who cares about the fate of the planet should read this" (Chris Mullin)

"Compelling and well-researched" (Nature)

"In "The Land Grabbers," Pearce has produced a powerful piece of journalism that illuminates how the drive for expanded food production is transforming the planet. Anyone who cares where her next meal is coming from should read it." (Juliet Eilperin Washington Post)

"A very important piece of work" (Tony Benn)

"Fred Pearce is at the nexus, brilliantly reporting on the biggest swindle of the 21st century. He is without peer" (Susan George, author of HOW THE OTHER HALF DIES)

Book Description

Fred Pearce lifts the lid on the most profound ethical, environmental, economic and social issue in the world today: How City Financiers, Chinese billionnaires, oil sheiks and agribusiness are buying up our hungry, crowded world.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting 22 Aug 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This was an interesting discourse but I had the impression of a whistle stop tour around the planet with the author looking at major issues in selected countries. The land takeover by super corporations and foreign governments is very scary and largely hidden from public knowledge. The uses the "acquired" land is put to is, in many cases - at least in this book - morally questionable and often ecologically unsustainable (inappropriate crops for the local ground /climate) but I felt there was something missing. Not all big land users are bad people and the story was rather one-sided but it does highlight important issues and exposes some of the more corrupt practices and greed inherent in the corporate agri-industry. This is certainly worth reading but I would caution that readers might like to undertake further research to balance the view and thus understand that this scrapes the surface and that there are, indeed, extensive abuses of (usually financial) power alongside corruptible subsidy provision as well as many instances of altruistic investment/land management which are never so well documented.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Shocking news 9 July 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As usual, delivery was prompt: your suppliers really are excellent!

The content of the book is a real eye-opener. The people who own land, how much, and what they do with it, causes real concern for the future. Everyone should be reading this, and uniting to challenge the Landgrabbersl
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4.0 out of 5 stars a very informative read 19 May 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
so enjoyed reading this book...very informative..and not too when given all the stastics of countries..and land grabbing..can be a bit over whelming..but really enjoyed it
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic 1 Aug 2014
By Jody
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A fantastically insightful book that I urge anybody to read
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Readable but lacks balance and scholarship 7 July 2012
By Derek Byerlee - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Land Grabbers: The New Fight over Who Owns the EarthPearce has written a book on a topical and controversial theme--foreign investment in farmland--that can be commended on at least three counts. First, he did a lot of traveling in Africa, Asia and South America to visit some rather difficult-to-reach outposts such as Gambella in Ethiopia. This is an important plus given the plethora of armchair writers on the book's theme. Second, he talked to a lot of people on both sides of the issue and at times grudgingly tries to make a balanced assessment. Third, he keeps the reader entertained by his background descriptions of the people behind foreign land deals.

All of this could have been five star material if he had taken more time to build a more focused and balanced book. Unfortunately he has produced a book with many tangents to his main thesis stated in Chapter 1--that land-short food importing countries are buying up land to ensure their food security. Many of the chapters do not deal with food at all but rather diverge into rubber, biofuels, logging, conservation, and private game parks. While they all place demands on land, they are not motivated by food security concerns. And the bulk of the evidence is that food-importing governments finance a relatively small share of land deals involving food production.

Further the book has an overall anti-business and anti-export crop tone. Although Pearce provides glimpses of positive impacts, 90% of the cases in this book dwell on the negative side--admittedly not hard to find. His negative cases of land grabs include Australia with good land governance and where, despite his claims, foreign ownership of farmland has not changed over 30 years according to official statistics. In Africa, he could have interviewed more investors who are making a difference by working in partnerships with smallholders, or providing stable and relatively well paying jobs. Finally, the book is very lame on policy prescriptions on how to tap much needed private investment in ways that promote social and environmental goals.

I deducted a second star for sloppiness, especially factual errors that discredit the quality of scholarship of the whole book. Here are just a few of the biggest that I caught without looking too hard. Ominously, the errors all seem to favor his thesis.

* 600 million people live in Africa's Guinea Savannah Region (an overestimate by about five times)
* Saudi Arabia was one of the world's largest wheat exporters in the 1990s (actually never reached more than 1% of world exports).
* Africa's agricultural growth has averaged over 12% in recent years (it has been 3-4% in the past five years and much lower prior to that)
* 60% of Brazil's Cerrado has disappeared under the plow and the Cerrado now accounts for 70% of Brazil's crop area (correct figures are 12% and 40%, respectively).
* The Tanzanian Groundnut Scheme employed 100,000 ex-local soldiers in the post WWII (actually about 15,000 and the ex-soldiers were the Brits).
* Paul Collier of the World Bank favored large-scale farming (Paul Collier was long gone from the World Bank when he wrote that article, and the World Bank itself has consistently favored the development of smallholder agriculture for equitable and productive agriculture).

Finally, I could forgive the location of Broken Hill in South Australia, but for all his African travels, he describes Guinea as a landlocked country. Another half star off for that one?
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good examples but not enough context 29 Nov 2012
By David Zetland - Published on
Fred Pearce sent me a review copy of his new book, The Land Grabbers: The New Fight over Who Owns the Earth, which I enjoyed very much for its detailed description of the pros and cons resulting from foreigners investing in land in developing countries.

In the book, Pearce appears to see more cons with land deals than I do. Perhaps that's because he saw only bad land deals, or perhaps he associates ALL large-scale agriculture with exploitation, inefficiency and environmental degradation. Any of you who read my paper ("The Political Economy of Land and Water Grabs")* will know that I am annoyed that we do not have a good definition of when a land deal is a "bad" grab or "good" foreign direct investment (FDI). Pearce appears to call ALL deals grabs, but I think there are many well-run, sustainable farming operations that produce profits for the farmer, good jobs for locals, and quality food for markets.

Anyway, here are my notes on the 300pp+ book, which has six parts and 27 chapters covering "grabs" from buy-side and sell-side locations in Europe, N and S America, Africa and SE Asia.

Many grabs convert "fallow" land to industrial-scale agriculture, but local communities often "cultivate" this land in long rotations of crops, grazing and recovery. Their methods are not just sustainable; they are cheaper and more productive for meeting a diverse range of local needs. Nomadic herders have practiced sustainable land management for centuries.

Such methods are also egalitarian. Poor farmers can eat, but poor urban residents will suffer from political corruption and/or favoritism.

That said, Pearce seems over-suspicious of markets (and financial instruments) that can improve food security and supply, views that I recently called shortsighted and misleading.

Food security, for example, is often used as an excuse for protectionism that favors local food growers over consumers. Grabs directed at security also fuel "countervailing" grabs in which market supplies are replaced by managed supplies that will waste calories, inputs and environmental flows. Yes, the Saudis are engaging in grabs, but that was only after their failure to grow wheat at home (a bad idea that wasted water) and their exposure to volatile food markets. The trouble with their "grab" strategy is that they will not be able to export food if large-scale shortages arise and their "indigenous" farms are wasting water now that they will need in the future. It's far more efficient, for example, to rely on markets for supplies, store a year's supply of grain in case of market failure, and save water for cultivation should market interruptions last longer than a year.

Land grabs are also often water grabs. The weak property rights that allow land grabs (by definition, a grab takes land from other users) are almost surely accompanied by even weaker rights over water and even greater misuse of that water.

Grabs, as a business strategy, often depend on corrupt dictators who will not be around as long as the 50-99 year contracts may promise, making it difficult to invest over the long term or care about sustainability.

Even worse, most grabs are arranged in distant bureaus, where "buyers" and "sellers" may not have a clear idea of what they've agreed, let alone who else may be interested/affected by their agreement.

It seems that Pearce considers deals involving foreigners to be "bad" while deals with locals are "good," but local thieves are not just more common, but more thorough, since they know the maximum local tolerance for greed.

That said, it's great to improve local productivity. It just takes a lot longer because locals do not just "copy/paste" good ideas from other areas. The upside is that locals who develop "organically" will have diversified, robust systems that will contribute to market stability. Pearce would agree with this assessment, I am sure, but local is not the ONLY way to go...

Remember remember remember that foreigners cannot just show up and exploit (at least not in these post-colonial days) -- they need corrupt local partners, and THOSE people are the ones with power to make or break a deal (as I discussed in my paper).

Unsustainable operations are a bigger problem than grabs. They are fueled by a combination of short-term thinking (high discount rate) that may be fed by over-capitalization (need to generate cash to pay off debt), poor property rights (get money before land is gone), tragedies of the commons (get water before neighbors take it), etc. These problems occur in ALL countries, but they can be minimized by stable, sensible policies.

Land grabbers may be taking "marginal" land (often conservation areas, etc.) but only because domestic farmers have already taken prime land, often before environmental perspectives had any weight.

Pearce appears to laud reverse grabs, e.g., when Chavez or Mugabe break large farms into smaller holdings, but those "fair" actions are often driven by corruption or revenge. Even worse, the land often ends up with cronies who cannot farm instead of poor farmers who can.

Remember that there would be NO land grabs if individuals or communities had title to their land! That's why many grabs are occurring in Africa -- about 80 percent of the land there is "managed" using informal, communal methods.

Pearce also covers the interesting case of "green grabs" -- where environmentalists take land out of production (or protect it), to keep it pristine. These grabs sometimes exclude locals from their traditional lands; they can also be sustainable (e.g., locals live in the lands under traditional conditions, while earning money from fees paid by foreign tourists who want to hunt beasts with cameras or guns).

Pearce loses his way when discussing "grabs" in Australia that are really FDI. That's not the case in Cambodia, where corruption underpins land seizures, but it's not good to mix up fair deals (even if they upset nationalists who prefer to avoid competing with foreigners for land) with theft.

There's an interesting discussion of grabs in Malaysia and Indonesia, in which rainforests are cut down for timber and palm oil plantations. It's not just that these grabs impoverish locals of their traditional lands, or that the biofuels produced on the land may actually be "carbon positive" but that the wood products produced from them are certified "good" by the FSC when they really are not. The main point is that eco-labels are meaningless unless there's a 100 percent accurate way to prevent counterfeits -- and that's hard in corrupt countries.

Take this last point with my point on property rights and long term views above, and you will see how real sustainability results from accurate pricing of resources that belong to a community over the long term (50+ years).

The world's largest sugar farm in Sudan uses 2.4mafy (~3,000 GL), or 4 percent of the Nile's flow!

Water grabs, no surprise, reduce environmental flows that nourish wetlands that traditional users depend on for food, fiber and fish. No rights = hunger.

Mega farms may be unsustainable, but subsistence farms cannot generate enough production. Perhaps the middle way -- small-scale, mixed-use farms managed by owner/entrepreneurs who innovate and adapt to local conditions -- are the best way to feed the world over the long run. Oh, and don't forget that these guys need to trade and benefit from trade.

Bottom Line: I give this book FOUR STARS for its vivid description of the problems related to land grabs that benefit outsiders at a cost to locals whose land is taken from them. Read it to understand the choices between hunger and food, rebellion and stability but don't forget that property rights (legal, traditional or communal) would stop unfair grabs while allowing local people to benefit from their resources, locally and globally.

* The working paper is no longer online, due to spurious copyright claim by the publisher of the book where it eventually appeared. Email me if you want to see it.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Depressing throughout, with a disappointing conclusion 8 Oct 2012
By J. Jenkins - Published on
In contrast to the above reviewer who thought the scholarship sloppy, I was highly impressed with the quality of the research and dizzying planetary travels. I won't go into the details of the subject matter since they were discussed by other reviewers. The endless listings of landgrabbing by the rich, of poorer countries' land, definitely makes for depressing reading though since it's the political equivalent of schoolyard bullying, with the strong taking from the weak, over and over again.
When I say the conclusion disappoints, I mean in the following way. As the environmental writer for The New Scientist, I would think Fred Pearce would incorporate the findings of climate change scientists into the assessments, but there is very little of this, probably since it wasn't really the focus of the book. But when discussing forests chopped down for pulp, it does matter greatly if a forest is expected to be gone due to increased temperatures, in 50 years, and what conditions will be like in areas of Africa, at this point, models are pretty consistent in forecasts of this kind. Instead of the obvious conclusion, that the rich countries taking land from the poor for food security is an added disaster for most of the world, added to the underlying problem of climate change, the conclusion states that the future looks positive because pastoralists and small farmers can feed the world better. What the--? Talk about dropping the ball. Once again, Malthus becomes the bogeyman in the final chapter, the risible predictions of malthusian disaster something to be clearly stated as impossible. Why is this? How does this conclusion follow in any way?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, up-to-date, moving account of a major global trend 11 Jan 2013
By Delmance Moses - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Excellent, up-to-date, moving account of a major global trend. Fred Pearce has visited all the places he described and has done the research to back up his analysis.
5.0 out of 5 stars Land Grab 19 April 2014
By Wossenu Abtew - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A great contribution on the greatest change in man-land relations and national rights since colonialism; all based on field observations.
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