On 27th April, a group of researchers, among whom, the Centre for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development (CIRAD), posted a matrix of land transactions (Land Matrix)1 the objective of which is to identify acquisitions and leases of agricultural land by foreign players throughout the world.
There is currently very little accurate data on this phenomenon that has grown exponentially since the 2000s. In September 2011, an Oxfam report referred to a figure of 227 million hectares of agricultural land leased or purchased since 20012, equivalent to more than four times the area of France.
As we have recently pointed out3, this phenomenon raises many concerns about its effects on global food security. While it is difficult, for lack of accurate data, to measure its impact accurately, the World Bank and the FAO underline the need to regulate its development by establishing appropriate governance.
Until recently, the issue of global governance of agricultural markets was mainly contemplated in the context of the Doha round, following a logic of unregulated liberalization of international agricultural trade. Ten years later, discussions have stalled and policy makers are increasingly questioning benefits of concluding this round. In any event, the problem of land acquisitions is not within the mandate of the WTO.
Faced with this impasse, the international community is now seeking to establish “partial” governance to regulate certain practices that are potentially destabilizing to global food security, such as land purchases or speculation in agricultural markets. Thus, in May, the Committee on World Food Security4 must adopt “voluntary guidelines” on the governance of agricultural transactions.
Instead of addressing agriculture in a segmented manner, it would probably be more appropriate to broaden the debate on its governance, so as to integrate all directly or indirectly related subjects. Indeed, the international agricultural scene has now exploded into a myriad of international institutions specializing on a key dimension of agriculture: FAO and WFP for food security, the World Bank and UNDP for development, UNEP for the environment, the WTO for trade, the IMF for financial stabilization...
A number of institutions that could be legitimately grouped into a World Agricultural Organization in order to rule in a consistent and concerted manner on major world agricultural issues.
3 Please see momagri’s article “Since 2001, strategic purchases of agricultural land have accounted for 15 percent of worldwide farmland”, http://www.momagri.org/UK/agriculture-s-key-figures/Since-2001-strategic-purchases-of-agricultural-land-have-accounted-for-15-percent-of-worldwide-farmland_1071.html
4 The Committee on World Food Security is an intergovernmental body to serve as a forum in the United Nations System for review and follow-up of policies concerning world food security including production and physical and economic access to food.