Foreign Investment in Agricultural Land Down from 2009 Peak

Cameron Scherer | Jun 21, 2012

Since 2000, an estimated 70.2 million hectares (ha) of agricultural land have been sold or leased to private and public investors.1 This is a land mass roughly the size of the Democratic Republic of Congo and is 1.4 percent of the world’s agricultural land.2 The bulk of these acquisitions, which are called “land grabs” by some observers, took place between 2008 and 2010 (the most recent year for which data are available), peaking in 2009. Although data for 2010 indicate that the amount of acquisitions dropped considerably after the 2009 peak, it still remains well above pre-2005 levels.3 (See Figure 1.)

Land Grabs Figure 1

*Covers acquisitions of 54.7 million ha for which the dates of contract are known.

Though definitions vary, “land deal” here refers to the large-scale purchase of agricultural land by foreign investors. Thus, land leases or purchases among domestic actors are omitted. In April 2012, the Land Matrix Project—a global network of some 45 research and civil society organizations—released the largest database to date on these types of land deals, gathering data from 1,006 deals covering 70.2 million ha around the world.4

The data remain in many ways lacking: with only a limited amount of information available, these statistics are admittedly conservative estimates. For some deals, little is known (for example, data on the date of contract are available for only 54.7 million ha of land acquisitions).5 Furthermore, countries marked by open and transparent government may be overrepresented in the database, and the steep decline in deals following 2009 may reflect both reduced investment and waning media interest in tracking land grabs.

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