Reuters International

By Chris Arsenault

RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - International land deals, often for giant agriculture projects, now cover an area the size of Germany and a growing share are getting up and running, fuelling fears that local residents will be displaced, the anti-poverty group Oxfam said on Monday.

More than 1,500 large-scale land deals have been signed in the last 16 years, Oxfam said, with many covering areas populated by communities who don't have formal title deeds to the territory.

"We are entering a new and even more dangerous stage of the global land rush," Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International's executive director, said in a statement.

"Land contracts are being signed and projects are breaking ground without the full consent of communities living there. Conditions are ripe for increasing conflict."

Most large-scale land deals happen in Africa or South East Asia, but investments are also taking place in Eastern Europe, the United States, Latin America and other regions.

About half of the signed land investment deals cover territory claimed by indigenous groups or local residents, Oxfam said.

Competing claims due to insecure land tenure for vast swathes of territory often lead to conflicts between investors and local residents that can turn violent.

Last year, 185 land rights activists were killed in 16 countries surveyed in a report by campaign group Global Witness, making 2015 the deadliest year for land and environmental campaigners since 2002.

Supporters of land investments say they bring wealth and technology to poor countries which will lead to more jobs for local people and increased food production.

Land deals can be beneficial if local residents give their consent to the territory being used, said Oxfam adviser Luca Miggiano, but that isn't happening in most cases.

Less than half of the deals involved prior consultations with residents, while only 14 percent of the agreements took place with informed consent from local land users, Miggiano said.

"Investments need to be done properly," Miggiano told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "This isn't happening and millions of people are being displaced."

(Reporting by Chris Arsenault; Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, and climate change. Visit


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