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Cadastre disaster



Brazil’s Cerrado region, the most biodiverse savannah in the world, is home to the geraizeiros, a native population of mixed Afro-Indigenous and European descent. Since their arrival in western Bahia over 200 years ago, the geraizeiros have lived in small villages in the savannah lowlands (baixões) and the plateaus (chapadas), cultivating the land with care and respect.

However, because many geraizeiros lack official deeds to the lands they live and work on, companies have recently been able to expand into the region and kick them off of the land they have occupied for decades. These companies laid claim to vast swaths of uncultivated land in the Cerrado before converting the native vegetation to soy, corn, and cotton monocultures.

The Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America alone has acquired at least 800,000 acres of farmland in Brazil, primarily in the Cerrado region. These aggressive business practices have severely impacted the geraizeiros, leaving most of them displaced and disconnected from their ancestral lands.

“Sadly, the story of the geraizeiros is not unique: Native communities across South America have faced similar fates.”

In recent years, many countries in South America have been digitizing their land registries and establishing online databases that serve as birth certificates for rural properties.

While land registries are not inherently harmful, mega-agribusiness corporations such as Cargill and Archer-Daniels-Midland use these registries as well as georeferencing technologies to deceitfully obtain property deeds that deprive Indigenous communities of their ancestral lands. But by working with non-governmental organizations and increasing oversight, South American governments can curb this continued land theft.

Although digital registries are relatively new, the ethos underlying their exploitative use is not. During the colonial period, debates over land registration and ownership in South America were often at the forefront of violent conflicts between European colonizers and the Indigenous groups they displaced.

Since then, land-grabbers have capitalized on the general lack of centralized land registration systems and regulatory policies to claim ownership of community-owned lands without legal deeds.

In 2020, GRAIN, a small international non-profit organization supporting small farmers and community-controlled food systems, launched an investigation into how these new digital systems function. In its report, GRAIN argues that in several areas of rapid agribusiness expansion in South America, the digital system is “validating the historic process of land grabs.” Rather than recognizing the long-standing land claims of traditional communities, the report alleges, the system is expelling native communities from ancestral lands that they have occupied for decades or even centuries. Affected communities live in regions including the Llanos Orientales of Colombia, four states in the Brazilian Cerrado ecoregion, and three areas along the Paraná River.

Within each of these regions, landowners are required to register their land in what is formally known as a georeferenced cadastre—a supposedly exhaustive record of a given country’s property—if they wish to acquire the legal land deed, bank credits, and loans. Since the World Bank partially funds the cadastre process in many South American countries, georeferencing tools allow the international financial sector to play a decisive and expanding role in converting community-held rainforests and savannahs into agribusiness land.

In Brazil, for example, the World Bank shelled out $45.5 million for the digital registration of private rural properties in the country’s rural environmental cadastre, allowing it to generate income from investments in agroforestry systems.

Unsurprisingly, this outsourcing of power and authority has had dire consequences for many indigenous communities. The cadastre system inherently caters to the needs of large companies and private actors who want to register individually owned allotments of land.

The bureaucracy of cadastral documentation, coupled with the rigidity of the cadastral system’s definition of land ownership, makes it difficult for some native communities—who collectively occupy their land—to register their plots.

Cadastres’ early iterations fail to record land occupation by these communities, making them “illegal trespassers” on the property they work and live on. The new landowners can then use the official cadastre and georeferencing records to go to court and evict traditional communal owners. Condoned by the rampant corruption in rural municipalities and courts, this sequence is disturbingly common.

Although much of this problem stems from misuse of georeferencing technology, the issue calls for a political solution. Local and national governments must put agrarian reform and collective land ownership issues on their political agendas.

Governmental land use groups and agencies—the South American equivalents to the United States Bureau of Land Management—should allocate public lands to rural peoples in order to guarantee their collective territorial rights.

Digital georeferencing techniques for land demarcation can and must be backed up by traditional ground truthing surveys. And rather than taking prospective landowners’ claims at face value, governments must independently verify them via a centralized land registration system organized to resolve conflicts.

Even if the government does not act, there are still a number of ways to guarantee land rights for Indigenous communities and other rural peoples. In 2019, the International Land Coalition (ILC) published “ILC Toolkit #9: Effective Actions Against Land Grabbing,” describing several strategies that landowners and activists alike can use to combat the global land-grabbing phenomenon.

One of the primary ways the ILC encourages local groups to resist land-grabbing is through the development of community land registries, which allow landowners to register their customary land rights into a government cadastre and obtain formal land titles or certificates. This process helps integrate many indigenous peoples’ customary rights into the legal system and establishes proper land rights that help communities protect their lands.

The Higaonon, an indigenous tribe in the Mindanao region of the Philippines, has successfully implemented this practice and holds much of its land under customary tenure systems.

Still, the lack of clear boundaries between neighboring groups has led to many disputes. In response, the Higaonon applied for a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT), a formal land ownership title. However, despite their efforts, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples has only formally registered 50 CADTs, limiting their effectiveness in protecting indigenous land.

Traditional knowledge and production systems—existing sustainably on communally held land—protect natural resources and are vital for human survival. But the longevity and viability of these systems are being put at risk by the “digital land grab.” We must do everything in our power to stop it.

Source: Farmlandgrab


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A corporate cartel fertilises food inflation



Last year’s financial results from the world’s largest fertiliser companies are now in — and it’s a shocker. Given the sky high fertiliser prices of 2022, it was anticipatedthat their revenues would break records, but no one could have predicted this scale of profiteering. As the world grappled with a severe food crisis and farmers saw costs rise, the world’s largest fertiliser firms ramped up their margins and more than tripled their profits from two years ago.

Graph 1

Graph 1 shows the total profits of the big nine fertiliser companies over the past five years. They exponentially grew from an average of around US$14 billion before the Covid-19 pandemic to US$28 billion in 2021 and then to an astounding US$49 billion last year. International agencies like the World Bank blamed the spike in fertiliser prices on the Russian war in Ukraine, resulting in high natural gas prices (used to produce nitrogen fertiliser) from shortages and trade disruptions. But as can be seen in Graph 2, a major part of the story is the monopoly power of the fertiliser companies. These companies increased prices far beyond the increases in production costs and boosted their profit margins to a massive 36% in 2022.
Graph 2
There are signs that fertiliser prices are coming down from their stratospheric heights earlier this year, but the effects of the price spike are still being felt. The high prices and lack of supply in some countries caused farmers to cut fertiliser use, thereby reducing production levels and contributing to an alarming rise in global food insecurity. The high prices also pushed many farmers deeper into debt. Farmers from Cameroon to the U.S. say they are still spending three times as much on fertilisers as they were a few years ago. And in countries where fertilisers are heavily subsidised, the price spike has saddled governments with huge debts. In India alone, the central government’s expenditure on fertiliser subsidies last year surged from US$9.8 billion to US$17.1 billion. People are paying the price for the fertiliser industry’s price gouging.
The costs are also rising for the planet. Chemical fertilisers are a major source of environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, with nitrogen fertilisers alone accounting for one out of every 40 tonnes of annual emissions. New reports from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and Earth4All, a global collective of leading scientists and economists, make it clear that steep and immediate reductions in global fertiliser use are required to avert catastrophic climate change. Both recommend a near phase-out of nitrogen fertiliser consumption by 2050 (see Graph 3). The idea is not to recklessly crash production levels, but a planned transition toward more sustainable, agroecological farming systems that require less or no fertiliser.
Graph 3
It is increasingly clear that today’s food inflation is a product of both corporate greed and ecological breakdown. Obscene levels of profit-taking by corporations are happening across the food system, from fertilisers to processing to retail, and this is pushing up prices. But the way these corporations organise our food production and distribution is also driving climate change and, undermining the capacity for the global food system to deliver affordable and accessible food, now and over the long term.
Bold new approaches are urgently needed to reign in corporate power in the food system and turn the food crisis around. When it comes to fertilisers, policy actions like windfall taxes and price controls can help. But to deal with both profiteering and environmental catastrophe we need to transition food production to rely far less on chemical fertilisers. The fertiliser industry will be pushing for the opposite when it gathers for its annual meeting in Prague this week, yet around the world there are farmers and rural movements already leading a transition away from chemical fertilisers, with plenty of successful examples to learn from. What’s holding us back is the structural political change needed at all levels to address the excess profiteering from the fertiliser industry, and chart a new path toward more resilient food systems.

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The Black Sea Grain Initiative: When the United Nations Brokers Profits for Corporations, Bankers, and Oligarchs



“I am so moved watching the wheat fill up the hold of the ship. It was the loading of hope for so many around the world,” said United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, as a cargo ship was loaded up with Ukrainian grain in August 2022. Mr. Guterres was launching the Black Sea Grain Initiative, purportedly to prevent famines and a global food crisis by enabling food exports from Ukraine, amidst the Russian military blockade. USAID claimed that the “lifesaving deal”, which was renewed on May 18, 2023, “helps people in need across the globe by delivering desperately needed grains to lower income countries and bringing down food prices.” The European Commission celebrated the initiative as a “a critical step forward in efforts to overcome the global food insecurity caused by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.”

Mr. Guterres’ hope, loaded on the cargo ship, has however since gone missing at sea.

Despite the hype in political circles and the Western media that the Initiative was essential to secure food supply for those in need — particularly in Africa — data released by the United Nations offers a starkly different reality. As of May 2023, only 3 percent of the food commodities exported from Ukraine under the initiative has gone to low-income countries. Out of the 30.3 million tons exported, a mere 2 percent — 625,000 tons — went to the World Food Programme for food aid operations around the globe.

Charts showing grain exports from Ukraine by income group and country.

The top destination for Ukraine’s agricultural exports is the European Union, with China being second. Spain is the largest recipient in Europe. Instead of offering relief, Ukrainian exports are threatening the livelihoods of millions of European farmers — to the extent that Hungary and Poland banned imports from Ukraine in April 2023 to protect their farmers. As Ukraine and the European Commission pressured for the ban to be lifted, Hungarian and Polish farmers pushed back, asking the critical question: Who actually benefits from these exports?

The Oakland Institute’s report, War and Theft: The Takeover of Ukraine’s Agricultural Land, answers the question. It exposed that the producers exporting commodities from Ukraine are mostly large-agribusinesses and oligarchs, associated with European and North American financial interests. Furthermore, the report detailed how these producers are heavily indebted to Western financial institutions, in particular the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB), and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) — the private sector arm of the World Bank. Together, these institutions are major lenders to Ukrainian agribusinesses, with close to US$1.7 billion lent to just six of Ukraine’s largest landholding firms in recent years. Other key lenders are a mix of mainly European and North American financial institutions — both public and private.

Renewing the Black Sea Initiative and maintaining the flow of exports from Ukraine has nothing to do with supporting the struggling Ukrainian farmers or the trumpeted goal to prevent a global food crisis — which has been largely triggered by speculation on global food markets. Food prices skyrocketed when global stocks of cereals were at historically high levels according to the World Bank.

Pretending their goal is to fight world hunger is appallingly deceitful, when, with the Black Sea Grain Initiative, the United Nations has become a business broker for agribusiness corporations. In violation of its values and the principles of the United Nations Charter, together with the Western banks and financial institutions, the United Nations is supporting large food trading companies, oligarchs, and their lenders and shareholders, to sustain export business and grow profits despite the carnage of war.


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Grain trader Cargill faces legal challenge in US over Brazilian soya supply chain



World’s biggest grain trader accused of ‘shoddy due diligence’ on deforestation and alleged rights violations.

The world’s largest grain trader, Cargill, is facing a first-ever legal challenge in the United States over its failure to remove deforestation and human rights abuses from its soya supply chain in Brazil.

ClientEarth, an environmental law organisation, filed the formal complaint on Thursday, accusing Cargill of inadequate monitoring and a laggard response to the decline of the Amazon rainforest and other globally important biomes, such as the Cerrado savannah and the Atlantic Forest.

The case, which was submitted under the guidelines of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, argues that Cargill’s “shoddy due diligence raises the risk that the meat sold in supermarkets across the world is raised on so-called ‘dirty’ soy”. ClientEarth says this breaches the international code on responsible business conduct.

The lawyers behind the complaint have stressed the urgency of the issue because Amazon degradation is approaching a tipping point, after which scientists say the rainforest will turn into dry grassland, emitting vast amounts of carbon dioxide. The Amazon’s sister biome, the Cerrado, has already lost half of its tree cover.

The lawyers say they hope the legal challenge will raise standards at Cargill – which is the biggest privately owned company in the US, with revenues last year of $165bn (£131bn) – and set an example across the industry.

Laura Dowley, a lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “Cargill has vast resources at its disposal to implement due diligence. The technology is already there. We aren’t asking it to do anything it doesn’t have the resources to do. We hope it will show leadership.”

Cargill has promised to be “deforestation-free” in the Amazon and Cerrado by 2025 and completely eradicate deforestation from all its supply chains by 2030. The company says it has put in place a sophisticated monitoring operation at ports, warehouses and other points in its supply chain. ClientEarth said it identified several shortcomings in this system, including a lack of environmental due diligence on:

  • Soya beans bought from third-party traders, which make up 42% of all Brazilian soya Cargill purchases.
  • Soya beans owned by other companies that passes through Cargill ports.
  • Indirect land use change.
  • Soya sourced from the Cerrado savannah.
  • Soya sourced from the Brazilian Atlantic Forest.

ClientEarth also cites reports alleging Cargill suppliers have been involved in rights violations of Indigenous, Afro-Brazilian and other forest-dependent communities.

Cargill told the Guardian it had not seen the full complaint but it had an “unwavering commitment” to eliminate deforestation and conversion in South America. In line with this, it added: “We do not source soy from farmers who clear land in protected areas and have controls in place to prevent non-compliant product from entering our supply chains. If we find any violations of our policies, we take immediate action in accordance with our grievance process.”

The company’s website notes: “Cargill is committed to transforming our agricultural supply chains to be free of deforestation by 2030. Our policy on forests lays out our overarching approach to achieving this target globally across our priority supply chains. It is founded on our belief that farming and forests can and must coexist.” A spokesperson added that Cargill was also “strongly committed” to protecting human rights in its operations, supply chains and communities.

However, journalists revealed last year that one of Cargill’s soya suppliers grows crops on land deforested and burned in the Brazilian biome. In 2020, the Guardian and partners uncovered evidence that Cargill supplied Tesco, Asda, McDonald’s, Nando’s and others with chicken fed on imported soya linked to thousands of forest fires and at least 300 sq miles (800 sq km) of tree clearance in the Cerrado savannah. Similar reports were broadcast this year by Sky News.

Source: The Guardian

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