This map shows target countries of land deal investment. Notice they're largely centered in developing nations. Via Land Matrix
Land grabbing, in which foreign countries or companies buy or lease large swaths of a country's land, is one of the rare concerns shared by both developmental NGOs and those fearful of the New World Order. Letting foreign entities exploit land can be a boon for developing countries without the resources to do so on their own, but at its worst (or even at its best, some argue), land grabbing is a force robbing poor countries of their food security and strategic resources.
Beyond the myriad ways neocolonial corporatism has done good and harm around the globe, it's fascinating just how much of the developing world, and especially Africa, is controlled by outside entities. Thanks to the Land Matrix's Global Observatory, those deals are slowly being brought to life through a massive, growing database and map system.
Meanwhile, source countries for deals includes just about every country on Earth. Via Land Matrix
Clicking through the site, you'll find that in 2008, three years before South Sudan become the world's newest country, an unknown company named Al Ain National Wildlife inked a 50 year lease on 2.8 million hectares of South Sudan's pristine wilderness. A year later, an American investment fund named Jarch Capital was part of an 800,000 hectare deal in the region.
The former company was thought to be developing ecotourism, while the latter held agricultural interests, although neither has received press attention since their deals were done. (The Economist called the Al Ain lease an "odd deal.") They've received even less following South Sudan gained its independence. What is clear is that South Sudan currently has more than 4 million hectares of land under the nominal control of foreign entities, which currently lead's Land Matrix's constantly-changing world tally. Worldwide, the Land Matrix contains data on more than 32.5 million hectares of land deals, which remains an incomplete tally. That total is more than the size of Ecuador.
Ethiopia has a total of 87 deals in the Land Matrix database, with a large portion from India.
Land Matrix is the product of the International Land Coalition, which focuses on land use issues worldwide. For many people worldwide, land use battles are an existential problem. If you thought your landlord was a pain in the ass, imagine finding out that your village's farms and fields are suddenly under the control of an oil company, or that the good cropland your tribe has farmed on for centuries is now being converted to grow crops to ship to a foreign country.
Losing cropland to foreign interests is a very real risk. As Tanya Dimitrova notes at MongaBay, nearly 2 million hectares of Mozambique's agricultural land have gone to foreign interests, including Sweden and South Africa, since 2000. Again, some land deals are beneficial to local economies, providing injections of cash and work opportunities. Other times, locals are left in the dark with no control.
Naturally, it's a heated topic, to which the Land Matrix initiative is designed to bring clarity. Writing for the BBC, Matt McGrath points out that deals are sometimes exaggerated or unclear, and that while those fighting against land deals are quick to paint any deal in a negative light, research into their efficacy has remained a challenge. Moving forward, Land Matrix hopes to add better data to the discussion, which will hopefully shed more light on the huge scope of land deals around the world.