The global rush for international companies to grab lands for private sector investments in most Southeast Asian countries has put their poorest people at high risks of hunger, an international aid agency warned.
In its latest report, Oxfam, an international aid agency that started a campaign to end land grabs, has noted that the global food system that focuses on profit margins has been in practice in many poor developing countries in Southeast Asia, where governments resort to record-high private sector investments instead of public investments in agricultural support services.
“Agriculture is key in helping poor people feed themselves and earn a living at the same time, so they have a chance to escape poverty. But the way the global food system is designed now doesn’t seem to prioritise poor people’s welfare,” said Norly Grace Mercado, Oxfam’s East Asia regional spokesperson, in a statement released on the occasion of World Food Day on October 16 .
“The irony couldn’t be sharper and more painful here in Asia where poor people who grow food for a living comprise the poorest segments of the economy and are scarcely able to eat,” she added. In developing countries in Asia, some 945 million are estimated to be living in absolute poverty, and six out of 10 people go to bed hungry, she said.
She said that the the global rush for international companies to buy up and grab lands in developing countries, coupled with the aggressive promotion of international free trade, had displaced many poor farming and fishing villages and weakened their productivity and market competitiveness.
“Global land grabs and, in particular, the upsurge of areas devoted to bio-fuel production have sent food prices in a tizzy, making it harder for poor people to buy affordable food,” she said.
“The prospects will be even dimmer for them with climate change threatening food production by skewing seasonal planting patterns or birthing more and more extreme weather events that could wipe out entire harvests,” she added.
She said that Oxfam found out that as many as 227 million hectares of land, including coastal land, in developing countries have been sold or leased since 2001, mostly to international investors.
“Weak government regulation has left many farmers and fishers succumbing to unfair terms to let go of their lands or to work on farms owned by foreign companies,” she said.
She noted that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) must protect their poor communities by regulating foreign investments in agricutlure.
“The Association of Southeast Asian Nations should come up with a regulatory framework that may be adopted by member countries.
Countries could also conform to the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Land Tenure and Responsible Investments to safeguard their food and uphold the right of poor food producers to sustainable livelihoods,” said Mercado.
She noted, however, that the framework and policy interventions to be adopted must attend to the needs of poor women, whom she said were often excluded from government agriculture programmes even though they were the primary providers of food in poor households.
She cited the example of how land titles were often named after men in most countries, even though women worked on farms while still performing household chores.
“Women are often excluded from government agriculture programmes because their role in food production isn’t valued if at all recognised,” she said.
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