Being opposed to land grabbing is not a radical act. Already in 1989 the International Labour Organization (ILO) established Convention 169, recognizing the tightly-knit relationship between land and identity.
ILO 169 sets out laws and norms for protecting indigenous people and their livelihoods, including access to and control over land. However, only 22 states have ratified this convention, and Sweden is not one of them. The European Parliament, not famous for its radicalism, also recognizes land grabbing as “a serious issue that requires urgent attention” and where “important human rights dimensions are at stake”. The loss of land rights for indigenous people has been linked to escalating conflicts and accelerated climate change, among other things. Indigenous stewardship of land is generally less harmful for the environment, given their dependence on a functioning ecosystem for their livelihood. This is contrasted to deforestation, the extension of vast monocultures or the establishment of industries. Even so, a mere 22 states have ratified ILO 169, and land grabs continue from Finland to Ethiopia.
Naturally, the purpose of “plantation agriculture” (a neutral expression) was never to destroy the livelihoods of communities that depend on their land. On the contrary, the idea was always that market forces would transform things for the better. Indeed, it was promoted and financially supported as a means to “develop”. Given the results, it clearly is a complex topic. At the heart of the land grab issue we find a common theme: the dominance of market values. In the struggle of continuously increasing profits and growth, the supposed “failure” of indigenous use of land to produce surplus has often been used to legitimize dispossession. Simply being sustained by the land and its fruits is not enough. When large corporations and states decide on a mutual agenda, indigenous people stand defenseless. Many have had no choice but to take the extra parliamentary route. Examples are organizations like Via Campesina and the International Land Coalition, both fighting for land rights across the world, uniting the various local struggles under a larger organization.
Although the dominance of market values undoubtedly has produced many impressive results, there are some increasingly uncomfortable consequences. On that note, Via Campesina explicitly seeks to globalize the fight against capitalism. Recognizing some of the claims made by activists, some large multinational corporations have agreed to work to eliminate land grabbing in their supply chains. This is undoubtedly a positive development, which hopefully can make a difference. Nevertheless, the fight to end land grabbing will at one point or another have to confront the dominance of market values. As incentives remain for states and corporations to extend plantation agricultures or industry, I think (cynically perhaps) that land grabbing and the violation of indigenous livelihoods will continue. There is a Native American saying that goes “when the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten and the last stream poisoned, you will realize that you cannot eat money”. Given that, almost everyone is against land grabbing, and that itself is not a radical act. A discussion on the forces that generate it, however, may be a different ballgame.