Large-scale land acquisitions are a direct result of the vagaries of the global food market, seriously compromised by the 2007-08 crisis which led to food riots in over twenty States.1 In what has been labelled a ‘land grab’, there has been a sharp acceleration in acquisition of lands in Africa, and globally, by foreign investors in developing countries seeking to produce crops for export. This rush for land has been generated by several factors but reflects concerns of States for their food security, as well as the increasing demand for biofuels globally.2 Generally, while large-scale land acquisitions have been predominantly associated with the recent strive to acquire land for food production, other forms of agribusiness are affected such as mining, petroleum, forestry and tourism. However, the present chapter focuses on food as the central concern emerging from the phenomenon. Investment in foreign farms is not new, but what distinguishes the recent

acquisitions is their scale – worth up to US$30 billion and involving some 20 million ha of farmland in poor countries in Africa, Cambodia, Pakistan and the Philippines, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute.3 Africa is particularly touched, to the extent that the rush to acquire farming land has been referred to as the ‘new scramble for Africa’.4 This makes direct reference to the colonial ‘scramble for Africa’ when five European powers divided most of the land in Africa amongst themselves, with total disregard for the rights of the local populations.5 The first parallel is that foreign companies, investors and States are taking control of large areas of land, with the ‘scramble’ for food production and access to natural resources rather than political control. A further parallel is the haste inherent in the word ‘scramble’; it should be recalled that in just half a generation Europe controlled virtually the whole continent of Africa, and it is feared that the contemporary process could be similarly swift. A further distinguishing feature of large-scale land acquisitions is the involvement

of governments. Foreign farming investment in the past was conducted by firms,

but present acquisitions can also be governments. The complexity of the land deals is enhanced by the fact that ‘there is no single dominant model for financial and ownership arrangements but rather a wide variety of locally specific arrangements among governments and the private sector’.6 Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is cited by host governments as the reason why they are inviting land acquisitions, with the bargaining power on the side of the investors, especially given the support of the host State or local elites.7 Hence the July 2009 meeting of the G8 promised a code of conduct based on principles of best practice to provide greater regulation, with support from the African Union.8

Grassroots protests are pointing to ‘neo-liberal policies of transnational corporations, the WTO and large-scale corporatisation of farming’ as directly responsible for an alarming, unregulated process.9