Competition For Agricultural Land Contributes To Hunger Of 500M Small-Scale Farmers, U.N. Official Says

Approximately 500 million small-scale farmers worldwide are going hungry because of “an explosive cocktail” of farmland speculation, environmental damages and urbanization, Olivier De Schutter, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, said on Thursday, the Associated Press/Winnipeg Free Press reports (Lederer, 10/21).

“The plots cultivated by smallholders are shrinking year after year. Farmers are often relegated to soils that are arid, hilly or without irrigation,” De Schutter said in an annual report presented to the U.N. General Assembly, Reuters reports. “This poses a direct threat to the right to food of rural populations,” he added.

According to the new report, up to 30 million hectares of farmland are lost annually because of severe degradation and urbanization (10/21).

In recent years, the pressure on agricultural land has been intensified by policies that favor large-scale industrial plantations and investors, the AP/Winnipeg Free Press writes. “All these developments have a huge impact on smallholders, indigenous peoples, herders and fisherfolk who depend on access to land and water for their livelihoods,” he said (10/21).

“Speaking to reporters, De Schutter stressed the need to protect land users from ‘land grabbers’ and speculators who may, for example, want to use farmland for large-scale mechanized farming to produce agrofuels,” the U.N. News Centre writes. “Access to land is what is needed to realize the right to food,” De Schutter said, “adding that agrarian reform may be necessary in situations where there are large inequalities in land distribution or in circumstances where people’s access to land is so limited that they are unable to grow enough food for themselves” (10/21). 

“Governments or sovereign wealth funds, but especially domestic and foreign private investors, seek to appropriate farmland that is useful to farmers, fishers and indigenous people for their livelihoods,” he said, the AP/Winnipeg Free Press writes. “They do this because they want to develop large-scale plantations for cash crops, they want to develop the production of biofuels or energy crops or they speculate on farmlands because they know that farmland, fertile land, is becoming increasingly scarce and thus, like fresh water, a strategic asset for the future” (10/21).

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