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Indigenous population protests international farmland acquisition

a) Executive Summary
b) Problem statement
c) Significance of the proposed study


a) Data collection and analysis
b) Limitations

a) Background and brief history since 2006
b) Behind food price increases
c) Water as battleground: securing food supply at expense of local population
d) Common elements of the land acquisition deals

a) Case study #1 – Madagascar land grab and government coup
b) Case study #2 – Kenya – proposal to rent the most fertile land causes promise to fight the deal to death
c) Case study #3 – Asia peasants caravan against global land grab strong message to support local land rights
i) Land grab history for countries participating in the caravan
ii) Protest
iii) Country study: Philippines and the land reform rip-off



a) Executive summary

Increasing food prices in 2006-2008 alarmed the world and crated new trend as a response to a global food crisis. In order to secure their food supplies investor nations are acquiring land in developing counties at much accelerated rate. According to the FAO, such deals have seen almost 2.5 million hectares of farmland allocated to foreign investor in just five sub Saharan countries since 2004. However, these deals are not always a win-win situation; rather they spark a neo-colonialism flare that is putting livelihood of local population at risk. As this report will show, land is an inherently political issue across the globe, with land reform and land rights problems often leading to violent conflicts and socio-political instability in developing countries.

This report will specifically look at the backlash of the local population against land grab indicating the common elements and reasons behind these protests. Due to progression of the shape and the form of indigenous population’s protests, culminating with multiple country caravan protest, the author of this paper believes that protests against land grabs are in fact opposing the same global scenario of oppression of the local population. In addition, this report will try to emphasize how participation of civil society is mandatory to secure land rights and livelihood of indigenous population.

This report will focus on the country of Madagascar and the backlash of the local population against South Korean Daewoo Group intended lease for 99 years of 1.3 million hectares of Madagascar’s land. The second country examined by this report will be Kenya and Qatar’s lease of the most fertile land, the Tana River Delta. Following Kenya, this report will analyze the “Five month Asia wide peasants’ caravan for land and livelihood -Stop Global Land Grabbing and Struggle for Genuine Agrarian Reform and Peoples’ Food Sovereignty”. This section will include the analysis of one of the countries involved in the protest, Philippines, concluding with the identification of the common reasons behind global protests against land grab.
b) Problem statement
What are the common reasons behind protests led by indigenous population against rich investing nations and their land acquisition deals?

c) Significance of the proposed study

The issue of food security is one of the major issues that we all face on a daily basis. Increasing food prices have changed the political agenda and started the worldwide land grab operation. The land acquisitions by rich investing nations will have an effect on, not only the investing countries and their population, but more importantly on the indigenous population, their social and cultural identity, environment, and local food production. This paper will provide a better understanding behind protested land acquisition practices and the repeated land grab scenarios that threaten livelihood of local population.


Research shows that increasing food prices in 2006-2008 had lingering effects on the world. Blas and England explain how,
“alarmed by exporting countries’ trade restrictions (Indian’s curbs on rice exports, Ukraine’s halt wheat shipments and Argentina’s impositions of taxes on soy sales) importing countries have realized that their dependence on the international food market makes them vulnerable not only to an abrupt surge in prices, but more crucially to an interruption in supplies.”

This created a new trend within the global food crises. As Blas and England mention “food security has been placed on the top of the political agenda and food crisis gave alarms for all countries to look for places to secure supplies of agricultural goods” . This has led, according to Braun and Meinzen, to a world food system that is now an acquisition of farmland in developing countries by other countries seeking to ensure their food supplies.
According to Braun and Meinzen,
“Increased pressures on natural resources, water scarcity, export restrictions imposed by major producers when food prices were high and growing distrust in the functioning of regional and global markets have pushed countries short in land and water to find alternative means of producing food.”

Proponents of agricultural investments, according to Braun and Meinzen, are mentioning that rural poor could benefit from creation of farm jobs, development of rural infrastructure, new agricultural technologies, schools and health posts. On the other hand, land acquisitions present a threat to people’s livelihoods and ecological sustainability. Another accusation is that land acquisition is a new form of colonialism. In the example provided by Ryall, and as a case study in this report, the riots stopped Korea to sign a 99-year lease of 1.3 million hectares in Madagascar. Ryall mentions that the opponents are emphasizing that these deals are looking far more lucrative for the buyer than for the seller.” For instance, Africa, as mentioned by Blas again, is giving land way for no or minimal land fees, only with promises of jobs and infrastructure development and contracts lacks concrete and biding legal weight. Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN emphasizes that many of land acquisition contracts lack transparency, checks, and balance. The FAO emphasize that opportunities and risks of these land deals depend on the terms and conditions of the deals and that this calls for a greater regulations, skilful negotiation, and public oversights. This is especially important in regards to the food insecure poor countries as it is going to be mentioned in the Kenya case study. There should be stronger mechanisms for protecting local right against blanked guarantee to export all the harvest.
Suggestions to solve the issue of land are similar and mentioned by Blas and Braun / Meninez. Blas calls for:

• transparency during the negotiating deals,
• respect for existing land rights including customary rights,
• sharing of the benefits and
• leases rather than purchases”.

Where in addition to Blas, Braun / Meinsen call for environmental sustainability and adherence to national trade practices. Lennarth Bage, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development said, “even though land was long thought less important then oil or mineral deposits that is no longer the case”. Now as Bage emphasizes “fertile land access to water has become a strategic asset”. With this in mind, it is clear that foreign investment in agriculture is not going to end. It is also true that these investments have a potential to provide the countries in development with much needed investment into their rural agricultural areas, but can create risk for poor rural citizens to lose land and/or control over land that is crucial for their survival. To ensure that second does not occur there is a greater need for international law, government rules, and regulations. However, as further mentioned in this report, one of the key elements is involvement of the civil society. A participation of the civil society is mandatory in order to maximize benefits for the local population and to secure their rights to land and water resources.


a) Data collection and analysis

Secondary data collected through this study will come from the external data sources. These are academic publications, library sources, NGOs, government and statistical agencies. Background information on the topic of food security will come from the books and scholarly articles, not limited to the ones mentioned in the literature review. On the other hand, the statistical data needed to address the food security issues, and the food/agricultural indicators, for case study analysis and comparison between the countries, will come from the Food and Agricultural Organization , World Bank , Economic Commission for Africa , Farmland Grab, , CIA World Fact Book , FIAN – Fighting Hunger with Human Rights and International Fund for Agricultural Development .

The analysis of the data will provide a clearer picture related to the land use and availability of the arable land in Madagascar, Kenya, and Asian Caravan Countries. It will present the current conditions, quantity, and quality of the arable and irrigated land, which will be, together with landlessness of the indigenous population, compared to the size of the investment area. This will emphasize the importance of land to the indigenous population questioning reasons to allow investments that threaten livelihood of local population.

b) Limitations

The following limitation might have a small impact to this study:
• the object of any policy proposal is to control and direct further action – in this case there are still no concrete evidence whether land acquisition is the most appropriate solution for food security issues and whether foreign investments will help the countries in development – meaning these policy initiatives might carry some probability of error that will be determined in the future ;
• some data collected are not final figures due to lack of transparency in the land acquisition agreements;
• study is limited to secondary data – some statistical data is in the units of analysis different than what researcher needs and the some data is several years old.


a) Background and brief history since 20006

Delegations from China, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and many other countries have scattered the world in order to find fertile lands to satisfy their citizen’s needs for not only food security, but also financial returns. As Grain’s briefing “Seized” explains, “two big global crises that have erupted over the last 15 months – the food crisis and the financial crisis are together spawning a new and disturbing trend towards buying up land for outsourced food production”.

As Grain’s briefing further explains in relation to food security, countries around the world, financially dependant on the price of food imports, are seeking ways to feed their population by taking control over the farmland in other nations. However, as a response to financial returns, Grain further mentions how multiple players, from investment houses to private funds, are looking for a faster returns and they are turning to land. A combination of land in developing countries being cheep, and expected high returns on food and fuel production investments are representing a catalyst for unprecedented quest for this new strategic resource.

b) Behind food price increases

As International Monetary Fund explains, food prices have increased by 45 percentages since 2006. Besides food prices of crude oil, tin, nickel, soybeans, corn and wheat reached record highs in US $ terms. The reasons for this, as IMF explains, are the following:
• ”strong demand for food from emerging economies
• rising biofuel production adds to the demand for corn
• supply adjustments to higher prices has remained slow (especially low inventory of oil)
• major exporting countries introduced export taxes, export bank or other restriction on exports of agricultural products
• drought conditions in major wheat-producing countries (Australia and Ukraine), higher impute costs (animal feed / fertilizer)
• financial factors (depreciating US $ increases purchasing power of users outside the dollar area and shifts from money market instruments to higher-yielding assets such as commodity-index funds)”

Table 1. Price of non fuel commodities 2006-2009 in US $






July 2009































Sunflower oil




































* Weights based on 2002-2004 average world export earnings.

c) Water as battleground: securing food supply at expense of local population

As food prices went up from 2006 to 2008 securing food production became one of the main driving factors behind land grab for many countries. However, in relation to the indigenous population protests against land grabs and necessary for food production, water supply in fact became a battleground in securing food supply.

As Food and Agriculture Organization mentions, irrigation is crucial to the world’s food supplies: “Between 1962 and 1998, irrigate land expanded by about 1.6 percent a year, a total increase of 100 million hectares”.

Graph 3, illustrates use of fresh water for irrigation purposes is different in different regions. For instance, Sub-Saharan Africa is using only 2% of its fresh water resources for irrigation where Gulf States use 80%. The availability of fresh water and potential that Africa has for agriculture represents on of the main reasons of conflict between indigenous population and investors seeking to lease already irrigated land together with river deltas, and other water sources available jeopardizing local populations’ existence and their livelihood.

As mentioned earlier in this report, countries like China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and many others have traveled the world seeking to lease new agricultural land to secure food supply and potentially provide higher financial returns.

The following table emphasizes some of the major investors and host countries, as well as size and nature of the land grab deals. As stated bellow, countries as well as private entities are heavily involved in global land acquisition.

Largest recorded land grab deals

Investor country

Host country

Size and nature of deals

Date announced



2.8 million ha for bio fuels




100,000 ha for rice


S. Korea


690,000 ha for wheat


United Arab Emirates


378,000 ha


Saudi Arabia


500,000 ha


United Arab Emirates


324,000 ha


Jarch Capital (USA)


400,000 ha signed with the local army




100,000 ha for bio fuels




100,000 for soybeans


Morgan Stanley (USA)


40,000 ha purchased


International Food Policy Research Institute. “Land Grabbing” by foreign Investors in Developing Countries: Risks and Opportunities”. IFPRI Policy Brief 13. April 2009.

However, besides investments focusing specifically on irrigated land and land that includes water resources “the greatest threat to the indigenous population is in the nature of the international investment contracts”. As Smaller and Mann, explain the investment contracts:
“increasingly have a propensity to become a legal code for the investment. In several developing countries, investment contracts become enshrined in legislation. In some instances, they even have a quasi-constitutional status. When such contracts depart form the application of otherwise generally applicable national or sub-national laws, they attain a law making status for that investment that goes outside normal commercial contracts.”

d) Common elements of the farmland acquisition deals:

• duration between 50-99 years
• land acquisition projects often larger that 10,000 hectares,
• main actors states, sovereign wealth funds, private entitles, investment banks,
• investment contracts will set not only the price and duration of the lease, but also rights:
- to export production,
- rights to import equipment and personnel,
- infrastructure use,
- environmental issues,
- workplace safety and labor conditions
• investment contracts lack transparency (a very few contracts have been made available to the public)


As mentioned earlier in this paper, the following three case studies will identify common reasons behind protests against land grab. The first case study will be the country of Madagascar and the government coup caused by intended lease of 1.3 million hectares of land. The second study will be the country of Kenya where proposed lease of the most fertile land caused uproar in the local population. The third and final case will cover the Asia peasant’s caravan against global land grab using Philippines as an example of magnitude that international quest for land has reached.


Madagascar: Land grab and government coup

“In the constitution, it is stipulated that Madagascar’s land is neither for sale nor for rent.”
Andry Rajoelina

As multiple news agencies reported on the large farmland acquisition deal between the South Korean company Daewoo Logistics and the government of Madagascar, it became clear that indigenous people would not quietly accept landlessness. The 1.3 million hectares contract for 99 years, representing half of arable land in Madagascar sparked strong opposition among local population. As Farmland-blog reports these violent protests took more than 100 lives and resulted in government coup of the President Rovalomanana. On the road to understand Malagasy people and their connection with the land, the following pages will introduce the country of Madagascar and their struggle against global farmland grab.

According to the CIA Word Fact book, Madagascar, a small island in the Indian Ocean, and a former French colony that gained independence in 1960 discarded past socialist economic policies in 1990s. World Bank and IMF policies of privatization and liberalization have placed country on a slow growth path.

Despite WB and IMF new policy that promised growth, Madagascar “has seen its inhabitant’s standard of living decline dramatically over the past 25 years”. The International Fund for Agricultural Development’s Rural Poverty Portal mentions also that 68.7% of population lives below the poverty line and 85% of these people live in rural areas. As CIA points out, “agriculture, including fishing and forestry, is a mainstay of the economy, accounting for more than one-fourth of GDP and employing 80% of the population”. “The Malagasy farmers”, as Rural Poverty Portal points out, “practice subsistence agriculture, producing barely enough to feed their families with average plot of 1.3 hectares”.

Just a comparison between the land available for a single family of 1.3 hectares and the deal offered to Daewoo Logistics of 1.3 million hectares can solely explains the feelings and resentment of the local population towards farmland grab. In addition and as Fighting Hunger with Human Rights organization reports, “the former President Ravalomanana’s Poverty Reduction Strategy to attract foreign investment to increase production was seen as a key to help the country, together with modernization of the land tenure system and promotion of the agribusiness”. As FIAN further reports, “since 2003, International
Finance Institutions pressured Malagasy government to allow granting land to foreigners and to pass laws that grant foreign natural, or legal entities land leases for a maximum of 99 years.”
The FIAN further reports that applications for land acquisition by foreigners were granted expeditiously, where as Malagasy small farmers meet overwhelming difficulties to get titles deed for their lands. There are reports of granting traditional land to investors without consent of local population which in fact is a violations of the Free Prior Informed Consent, article 32 of 2007 UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people.

The announcement of the Daewoo deal, As Sam Urquhart of the Rain Forest Rescue explains was crucial in political power shift in Madagascar. As Urquhart quotes Prof. Nadia Horning of Middlebury College,
“Ravalomanana’s deal with Daewoo presented a perfect opportunity to tap into nationalistic sentiments given Malagasy people’s attachment to land, which is thought of as the land of their ancestors.”

Public support for the president’s reforms and foreign investment deals melted away, and presidential challenger and the coup leader Andry Rajoelina expressed his support to the indigenous population: “In the constitution, it is stipulated that Madagascar’s land is neither for sale nor for rent, so the agreement with Daewoo is cancelled”.
Chart 1.

This chart is important because it compares the size of irrigated land and the size of arable land directly emphasizing the importance of land and water resources for the local population questioning government’s decisions to rent this land threatening the livelihood of the local population.

Chart 2.

Chart 2 clearly compares the size of the irrigated land in Madagascar and the size of Korean investment. The similarities in size point towards irregularities and illegalities of these deals that violate the rights of the indigenous population.


Kenya: proposal to rent the most fertile land causes promise to fight the deal to death

“No amount of force will get us to give that land to Qatar!”
Omara Kalasinga, local activists Kenya

Just a proposal for land acquisition deal in the Kenyan’s Tana River Delta by Arab emirate Qatar was enough for the local population to promise to fight the deal – “to death, if it comes to that”.
This proposal, as Wadhams explains, includes US $ 2.5 billion loan to build a second deep-water port in Kenya in exchange for 40,000 hectares of land to grow food. According to Joyce Mulama “a third of Kenya’s 34 million population is facing starvation which forced President Mwai Kibaki to declare the situation a national disaster, appealing for food relief bringing local activists to seek logic behind the land acquisition.”

“The regional hub for trade and finance in East Africa,” as CIA World Fact Book reports, “ Kenya has been hampered by corruption and by reliance upon several primary goods whose prices have remained low.” . Further CIA elaborates, “Severe drought from 1999 to 2000 compounded Kenya's problems, causing water and energy rationing, reducing agricultural output, and contracting GDP by 0.2% in 2000”. As CIA further reports growth in Kenya stayed at 1.1% in 2002 because of unpredictable rains, low investor confidence, insufficient donor support, and political power struggle.

As country struggled through drought for several years now, the significance of Tana River Delta lease is therefore even more important. As Wadhams explain, “rain is abundant there, fertile land is little developed and prime and it would be just kilometers from the proposed port bringing Qatar even closer to harvest.” As similar to Madagascar, this plan was a part of governments Vision 2030 promotion to infrastructure investment and improvements in Kenya. Especially the port would be extremely beneficial to development, but for what cost?

Even though Kenyan government claims that land in Tana Delta is theirs to give, local population indicates that they might not have deeds, but customary rights prevail. As Hadley Becha, the director of the East African Wildlife Society said:” people were there before the state came into existence, and on the ground we will have to displace people who are not ready to be displaced.” L

In addition to violation of the free, prior informed consent (FPIC) and indigenous people’s right to say “Yes” or “No” to proposed development of their land, Kenyan government does not stop there. Kenya is giving away the agricultural land in the name of development while still receives food aid. As David Hallam, head of the Trade Policy Service at the UN Food and Agricultural Organization states:” It does seem rather anomalous that you’ve got countries which are food insecure, and in receipt of food aid shipments, and at he same time handing over control of land to third countries.”

“Even though Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani” as Wadhams writes “may thought that he had a deal what would help feed his 800,000 people, the deal did not go through. As soon as announcements appeared in the Kenyan newspaper, anger started to mount. Criticism came from different sides, think thanks, non-government organizations, and civil society. Tana River Delata was “seized by local who have promised to fight for it – to the death, if it comes to that.”
Chart 3

Chart 3 clearly indicates the size of agricultural land for Kenyan use. However, this chart is important because not only it indicates the size of arable land compared to the area used for permanent crops, but shows how little of irrigated land the country has making the Tana River even more important for the population.
Chart 4

This chart is important because it compares the size of irrigated land to the size of Qatar investment. Qatar’s investment in the most fertile and the most irrigated parcel of land questions any potential idea for sustainability and agricultural investments that will help local population.


Asia peasants caravan against global land grab: strong message to support local land rights
“At the height of the global financial crisis, state terrorism and widespread land grab the fifteen million strong Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) has kicked off a “Five month Asia –wide Peasant caravan for land and livelihood that started on July 20 in Shi Lanka and will end in November 2009 in India”. As stated in the protest media release ten countries will participate: Sri Lanka, Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal, Mongolia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Thailand, and India.

i) Land grab history for countries participating in the caravan

“Approximately 365 million people in Asia derive their livelihoods from land. Unfortunately, landlessness in Asia in intensifying at an alarming rate over the last ten years, owning to the greater degree of integration of Asian countries with the global market and increasing demands for land by big corporation interests.” “ Landlessness”, as Danilo Ramos, Secretary General of the Asian Peasant Coalition explains, is contributing to poverty and hunger and most Asians live on less that $1 a day. Majority of the farmers do not own the lands they till and are bound by feudal and semi-feudal relations of exploitation as tenants, farm workers, or lease holders.”

ii) Protest

“The problem of land grabbing by foreign investors and governments,” as Sarath Fernando, Co-Secretary of the Movement for national Land and Agricultural reform (MOLNAR) states ”extends well elsewhere in Asia and Africa ever since high food prices in 2007 and 2008. The food price increase raised the prospect of food insecurity for countries without much farmland, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These countries have scoured Asia for land which in turn will result to more landlessness among the Asian peasants.”

As Ramos explains, “the objective of the Asian-wide caravan is to send the Asian Peasant’s strong message against global land grabbing and popularize peasant victories and success stories in its struggle for genuine land reform that will inspire other peasants worldwide.”

iii) Country study: Philippines and land reform rip-off

As an example of the government actions that violate local peasant’s rights to land Ramos, Secretary General of the Asian Peasant Coalition mentions Philippines. A series of high profile deals have interfered with agrarian reform, including land distribution in this country. As Ramos mentions Philippines president has kept public land for foreign leases, and especially 1.2 million hectares of land that China wanted to lease. The same land, according to Ramos and the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR, was declared ready for redistribution to local peasants. This idea is only one in the row of land lease deals conducted by the Philippines. The chart below will compare the land acquisition deals with the available arable land in the Philippines emphasizing how the size of the countries irrigated land almost equals the size of potential Chinese 1.3 million hectares investment, Qatar 100,000 hectares potential investment, and already sighed 25 year deal for 94,000 hectares to South Korea.
Again, the similar situation as previously mentioned in Kenya sustainability of current investment and any further investment into agriculture that might potentially benefit local population is questionable.

Chart 5. Philippines distribution of agricultural land

Chart 6. Philippines proposed land grabs compared with size of available irrigated land


Increasing food prices and worldwide financial crisis have influenced a new wave of global land grab. Food security is on the top of political agendas, and a quest for fertile land invite questions about neo-colonialism that will threaten livelihood of local population. As stated earlier, the land acquisition deal from 2006 till now look much more lucrative for the buyer than the seller. These deals lack transparency, checks and balance, and in many cases do not share the benefits with the indigenous population. With all these issues in mind local population in countries of this study have stood up for their rights. Madagascar, Kenya and ten countries of the Asian Peasant Coalition have protested against volitions of their land rights and allowed this study to identify major reoccurring elements that are specific for the land acquisition deals that threaten social and cultural identity, environment and local food production.

The common reasons behind protests are as follows:
 Importance of the land to local population is emphasizes and potentially underestimated by the investing country;
 Deal present a great risk for landlessness;
 Economic situation categorizes these countries as poor, in development;
 Population living below poverty line, mainly in rural areas;
 Local food security issues at critical levels and many countries receive food aid;
 Agriculture is a major contributor to the economy ;
 Political situation indicates governments in transition, post coup, conflict or corrupt;
 Land acquisition deals important elements of Presidential Development and Investment Vision for the countries in question;
 Local government ignores indigenous population’s rights;
 Investment deals negotiated in secrecy – only in final phases reached the press
 Investment deals more lucrative for the investor than for the local population;
 Investment deals involve the most fertile and irrigated parcels of land;
 Investment deals involve the large parcels of land which lease will threaten local food production;
 No official mechanism, local government or international to protest local rights;
 Rights of the indigenous people to express their opinions on the land development issues violated {FPIC (Free, Prior Informed Consent) article 32 of 2007 UN declaration}
 Agricultural land ownership reforms institutionalized not in favor of peasants and influenced by International Financial Organizations.

Besides the above-mentioned elements, it is important to say that indigenous population in these countries might not have the strongest government, or the most developed infrastructure, but their civil society and ability to stand up and defend their rights is what is important.

The role of civil society was crucial and contributed to mobilization of peasants whose protest escalated at different phases of the international investment deals, i.e. Madagascar stopped signed deal and Kenya stopped a proposal. However, the Asian Peasants Caravan has elevated the fight of indigenous people at the highest level seen until now. The peasants from ten different countries are not only joining to worn about any potential deal that will threaten their livelihood and their land and water rights. The international community of peasants, suffering from the same oppression, joined together to share stories and knowledge, not only from village to village, but also from country to country, and continent to continent. Their strong message is heard clear, they are ready to fight for their land rights and for their livelihood.


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