Extent of farming grabbing in the EU
Excerpts of the Transnational Institute’s (TNI) report for the European Parliament
Land grabbing is no longer a specific concern for Africa alone or just for Asian buyers. The European Union, and especially the member states of Eastern Europe are increasingly affected by this phenomenon. According to a study by the Transnational Institute (TNI) presented to the European Parliament on 16th June (extract here1), 166,359 hectares are affected by this, according to data from the Landmatrix project. Yet, NGOs continue to exclude the European Union from statistics on land grabbing.
Moreover, this notion should be handled with precaution, as the definition of land acquisition may vary according to investor strategies: from the unscrupulous speculator to the State concerned about its food supplies… In Europe, it is indeed a question of agricultural expansion strategies by foreign powers that make us fear a weakening in transparency and regulation of rural markets, as well as family farming.
This trend has risen sharply since 2005. Globally, since 2000, 36 million hectares of agricultural land were the subject of a purchase, of which 20% by the United States. Finally, this phenomenon is mostly symptomatic of “disagriculturation” of which land purchases are far from the only manifestation. Behind this phenomenon lurks a deeper problem. It corresponds to the crisis of a model for agriculture, which under the influence of uncontrolled liberalization and subject to speculative excesses, may affect land.
momagri Editorial Board
This study examines the issue of farmland grabbing in the EU.
Europe is largely believed to be situated outside of the “global land grab”, the popular term to describe the rising global interest in farmland and the increase in large-scale land deals world-wide. This study counters this suggestion by showing that there is significant, albeit partial, evidence that farmland grabbing is underway in the EU today, as measured by the degree of foreign ownership of land, the capturing of control over extended tracts of land, and the irregularities that have accompanied various land transactions. The scale and scope
of farmland grabbing in the EU is however limited when compared to countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and former Soviet Eurasia, with preliminary evidence indicating that farmland grabbing is concentrated in particular in Eastern European Member States. Farmland grabbing in the EU involves a heterogeneous set of actors including foreign and domestic, state and non-state, natural and legal persons. In addition to the establishment of large, corporate agricultural enterprises in Europe with the involvement of capital from all over the world, the rush for land has seen a new class of financial investor, not traditionally involved in the agricultural sector and made up of banking groups, investment funds, individual traders, and private equity companies, involved in farmland acquisition in the EU. Farmland grabbing in Europe also involves a new set of “land deal brokers” made of speculators and scammers who mediate corporate and state interests in land.
These diverse set of actors reflect the multiple drivers of farmland grabbing in the EU including: differential land prices throughout the EU which have encouraged speculation and processes of ‘land artificialisation’; the unintended consequences of land reforms, land privatisation and land consolidation programmes in Eastern European Member States; the link between control over land and access to payments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); and a variety of other EU policies linked to food, energy, trade, finance and
The study argues that the impacts of farmland grabbing, which remains a limited phenomenon in Europe, must be placed within the context of broader structural changes within the EU agriculture. Against the backdrop of dramatic levels of land concentration and
the rapid exit of Europe’s small farms, farmland grabbing, through its control, privatization and/or dispossession of natural resources, has become an active factor in the further weakening of the socio-economic and environmental vitality of the rural sector. It is leading to the further erosion of Europe’s model of family farming based on a sustainable and multifunctional form of agriculture and blocking the entry into agriculture of young and aspiring farmers. This has real implications for European food security, employment, welfare, and biodiversity as with the demise and marginalisation of small-scale farming in
Europe, the multiple benefits of this type of farming system and way of life are also eroded.
It is in this sense that the study draws broader connections between the ongoing but limited process of farmland grabbing in the EU and other burning land issues in Europe today. It makes a strong case that the ongoing (generic) trend of farmland concentration in Europe is just as problematic and deserving of policy attention as farmland grabbing. Not only does the highly skewed distribution of land in Europe conflict with the EU’s structural goal of dispersed land ownership, it has the danger of introducing profound disequilibria in European society as a whole. This study therefore challenges the notion that the ‘land question’ in Europe is closed.
There is a general paucity of quantitative data on farmland grabbing in the EU. Available international databases on large-scale land deals have thus far tended to exclude the EU, with both the overview of media reports on overseas land investments between 2006 and 2009 compiled by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) as well as the data set with over 400 global land grabs released by the NGO GRAIN, not registering any land deals in EU Member States.
The Land Matrix database, a land monitoring initiative of the International Land Coalition
(ILC), an international consortium working on land governance issues, has recorded largescale land deals in the EU totalling 166,359 ha as of March 2015.
1 The entire report is available from