Despite drop from 2009 peak, agricultural land grab still remains high

An estimated 70.2 million hectares of agricultural land worldwide has been sold or leased to foreign private and public investors since 2000, according to new research conducted by the Worldwatch Institute for its Vital Signs Online service.

The bulk of these acquisitions, which are called "land grabs" by some observers, took place between 2008 and 2010, peaking in 2009.

Although data for 2010 indicate that the amount of acquisitions dropped considerably after the 2009 peak, it still remains well above pre-2005 levels, writes Worldwatch author Cameron Scherer.

Although definitions vary, "land grab" here refers to the large-scale purchase of agricultural land by foreign investors. Thus, land leases or purchases among domestic actors are omitted.

In April 2012, the Land Matrix Project, a global network of some 45 research and civil society organisations, released the largest database to date on these types of land deals, gathering data from 1,006 deals covering 70.2 million hectares around the world.

Africa has seen the greatest share of land involved in these acquisitions, with 34.3 million hectares sold or leased since 2000. East Africa accounts for the greatest investment, with 310 deals covering 16.8 million hectares. Increased investment in Africa's agricultural land reflects a decade-long trend of strengthening economic relationships between Africa and the rest of the world, with foreign direct investment to the continent growing 259 per cent between 2000 and 2010.