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Posted by on Jun 11, 2013 | 0 comments

Who’s behind the growing web of transnational land deals?

Who’s behind the growing web of transnational land deals?

The US, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates and the UK top the list of the countries with the most land from transnational acquisitions, according to the Land Matrix Global Observatory and the latest version of its Land Matrix database, a global land monitoring initiative that tracks land deals by governments and private investors. These countries were followed by India, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, China, South Korea and Egypt.

Currently the database records more than 32 million hectares of land from 751 concluded deals, with nearly half of them made in Africa.

The Land Matrix’s authors say the numbers are “inherently unreliable” as land deals notoriously lack transparency. Over time, though, accuracy will improve, they say. Experts on land issues interviewed say that in the mean time, it’s the best information there is. Read here to see where the Land Matrix gets its data.

Entirely reliable or not, the data provides illuminating reading. Geeks like this reporter could (did) lose entire afternoons fiddling with the database to learn where countries and companies bought land and what they did with it.

Media mogul Ted Turner, it appears, owns 45,000 hectares of land in Argentina to be used for conservation. Environmentalist and former businessman, Douglas Tompkins, owns 270,000 hectares, also in Argentina, and also to be used for conservation. Then there are all of those energy companies like palm oil firms, which have bought land in Africa presumably hoping to profit from the European Union’s biofuel targets.

Some surprises from the database:

The size of land grabs may have been exaggerated, possibly by investment companies hyping the market. It’s worth nothing that sometimes the size of announced deals is far greater than the amount of land that eventually changes hands.

China’s involvement in land deals may also have been exaggerated, as the database showed less activity than had been previously speculated in the press.

The use of land for biofuels may also be smaller than foreseen with land purchased equally divided between food and non-food crop use.

Perhaps the most worrying trend to emerge from the report is the growing lack of transparency behind who ultimately is investing in these land deals.

The initiative is designed to make land deals more transparent over time—of particular interest as food prices keep rising and local people are displaced (sometimes illegally) from their lands.

Enjoy the Land Matrix interactive database here, and learn more about who is behind this collaborative open tool initiative.

Image by markescapes