New Scientist environmental and development consultant Pearce (The Coming Population Crash, 2010, etc.) documents widespread global “land grabs” by moneyed interests and the dire consequences for poor people around the world.
In this wide-ranging but efficient book, the author looks at how purchases by foreign investors of massive tracts of land in countries in Africa, South America, the former Soviet bloc and elsewhere have often caused local ruin. Impoverished residents of these countries, he writes, often lose their land, homes and livelihoods as they are evicted to make way for new projects. Most often those projects are massive industrial farms, with the majority of profits enriching foreign companies and their investors. Pearce is acclaimed for his keen environmental reporting in books about water shortages (When the Rivers Run Dry, 2006) and climate change (With Speed and Violence, 2007), and here he discusses environmental impact, particularly regarding projects in which water sources are diverted or forests are razed. More often the author focuses on financial and societal consequences, particularly for those at the bottom of the economic totem pole. These big-ticket investment deals often influence and distort governments and the law. In one section, he details how international investment agreements can create an environment in which “[e]ven if the locals are starving or parched with thirst, in law the rights of the foreign investor come first.” He also writes of how even well-meaning conservation groups’ efforts to create protected wildlife zones in some countries can have the side effect of uprooting local residents. Pearce paints a bleak picture, with many seemingly insurmountable problems, but he provides an important look at a problem rarely discussed in the mainstream media.
A well-researched, informative and accessible look at important economic and agricultural issues.