This past week, Oxfam @ Queen’s was fortunate enough to have Dr. Allison Goebel join us at our meeting to speak about gender, agriculture, and climate change in Southern Africa. Dr. Goebel is an Associate Professor in the School of Environmental Studies here at Queen’s. Her talk focused on the gendered nature of agricultural production and food security in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
One aspect of Dr. Goebel’s talk that was especially relevant to Oxfam’s current campaigns is the issue of land grabs. Just a few weeks ago, Oxfam at Queen’s hosted an event at the corner of University & Union to raise awareness about land grabs. The event encouraged passers-by to sign Oxfam’s petition challenging some of the world’s largest food brands to improve their business practices to stop land grabs.
Since we were just recently campaigning to raise awareness about land grabs and hopefully help put an end to them, it was wonderful to hear more details from Dr. Goebel about this topic!
Dr. Goebel explained some more about the circumstances surrounding land grabs. Land grabs are a growing concern in Africa, because more than half of the world’s land grabs occur on that continent. So far, millions of hectares of land have been grabbed! Land grabbing really escalated in 2008, as the global recession spread. In and after 2008, as food prices around the world rose, some countries that depended on importing food could no longer afford to do so because prices had risen too high. Thus, some governments and corporations either purchased or grabbed land in Africa, and around the world, in order to produce the food they needed at lower prices and then export it abroad.
Why would governments agree to sell land that their own citizens are using? Dr. Goebel discussed how governments sometimes choose to sell the land because they view earning money from the sale as more important than owning the land, especially if it does not appear that the land is being used to its full potential. The key word here is “appear” because land that is assumed to be “unused” is often actually crucial. For instance, people might pick wild berries or vegetables from forested areas, or they may use large open fields to herd their livestock. And although the land may not be used year round, residents often depend on it for specific purposes.
I hope reading this has helped you to understand a little bit more about why land grabs occur and how serious a concern they are. We are so grateful for Dr. Goebel for joining us to speak about land grabs as well as other areas of her research; she gave an extremely interesting and educational presentation!