Experts to Discuss Land Grabbing at Upcoming Event

We chat to three experts about land grabbing and the implications for Australia and the globe.

Foreign investment in Australian agriculture has always existed but the current challenge is that it is now being associated with the conversion of some of our most productive farmland such as the Liverpool Plains case – from agriculture to mining – according to Professor Bill Pritchard, The University of Sydney. While concerns have been raised about foreign investment in farmlands and effects on Australian food security, Australia is immune from the notion of ‘land grabbing’, which has affected many parts of the global South.

Professor Pritchard, Convenor of the Food, People and the Planet node, joins sociologist Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Lawrence, The University of Queensland, and Dr Sarah Sippel, a geographer at the University of Leipzig, Germany and visiting researcher at The University of Queensland, on Monday 23 May for a discussion on agricultural land grabs and their implications for Australia and globally.

Land grabbing is a “pejorative term” according to Emeritus Professor Lawrence, which refers to the large-scale acquisition of land which is illegal, underhanded or unfair. Land grabs force people from their traditional lands, have minimal or no consideration for sustainable natural resource use and often undermine local and national food security. Some of the poorer African and Asian nations have experienced such land-grabs due to corrupt national governments.

While in Australia, the concerns are not so much about foreign land grabs, Emeritus Professor Lawrence believes some foreign investment deals have not been transparent. “Little has been known about the actual amounts of land owned by particular companies and countries, and there might be opportunity for tax avoidance via transfer pricing if foods from foreign-owned properties are repatriated directly to the investing country, without entering the marketplace,” he said.

Professor Pritchard points out that the most important implications of land grabbing are in the global South where foreign companies with the help of compliant governments take away communities’ customary lands without consultation or compensation. “This can rupture local communities’ abilities to feed themselves through local food systems, and give few other livelihood opportunities but to work as wage-labourers on land they may have traditionally had rights over”, he said.

The land grabbing debate began to gather pace in 2008 – initiated by the Barcelona-based non-governmental organisation, GRAIN, before it “quickly entered the public media and was picked up by a wide range of international organisations, think tanks as well as academics” according to Dr Sippel. She adds that the various understandings of land grabbing, the political urgency of the phenomenon and the “apparent blurring of activist and academic motives” in this area’s literature have resulted in methodological problems and distortions in the process of knowledge productions.

“This has provoked a call for a ‘second phase of ‘land grabbing’ research by a number of academics that instead of collating and aggregating data should now focus on in-depth case studies, sound empirical data collection and challenging and reframing narratives,” Dr Sippel said.

The event is part of the Food@Sydney Seminar Series and co-hosted by the Sydney Environment Institute and Sydney Ideas.

Event details

What: Agricultural land grabs: What are their impacts Australia and globally?
When: Monday 23 May, 6.00 to 7.30pm
Where: LT104, Sydney Law School, University of Sydney
Cost: Free, registration requested