As of 2016, the Land Matrix—an independent monitoring initiative—reported that successfully completed land deals encompassed 57 million ha, while deals involving an additional 20 million ha were planned. The land rush was catalyzed, in large part, by an international food crisis. Already in February 2007, thousands of Mexicans gathered to demand relief from steep increases in the cost of corn-based tortillas. By 2008, the food crisis was global.
In Senegal, police beat and teargassed protesters who could no longer afford rice. In Egypt, resentment toward the government was fueled by rising food costs, and the military was set to baking bread in the hopes of appeasing public anger. Grain prices decreased somewhat throughout 2009 and 2010, only to peak once again in 2011 and remain elevated through 2014. These high crop prices had many causes. A sharp rise in global oil prices greatly increased the costs of agricultural production—including the costs of fertilizer, for which oil is a major input—and of transporting agricultural goods after harvest.
At the same time, an extended Australian drought and other weather-related shocks led to production shortfalls, particularly of wheat. Additionally, government policies encouraging the use of biofuels created a food-fuel nexus in which basic food crops such as corn and soybeans became substitutes for fossil fuels. This forged a link between food and energy markets globally and heightened demand for land to grow both. What are the pros and cons to steel buildings?
However, food was not the only factor involved. Demand for agricultural land was also driven by concerns about water scarcity. By outsourcing agricultural production, arid countries like the Gulf States can increase their consumption of “virtual water”—the water that goes into producing consumer goods such as agricultural crops—while conserving their own scarce water resources. At the same time, commercial demand for other types of natural resources led to large-scale land acquisitions for mining projects and even “green grabs” of forested lands for use as conservation areas and carbon sinks. Do you know anyone that needs an industrial steel building or a commercial steel building?
This rush for land and the natural resources it harbors has set off alarm bells within the international development community and among human-rights activists. In many parts of the Global South, the land rights of the poor receive only the flimsiest of legal protections, making them susceptible to