World Bank 'has aided land grabs'

The World Bank has been accused of facilitating land grabs in some of the world's poorest countries after a raft of formal complaints from communities affected by projects it has financed.

Oxfam said that 21 complaints from countries such as Uganda, Chad, Cambodia and Panama have been made to the bank's ombudsman in the past four years.

The communities allege that the World Bank-backed projects violated their land rights, typically by failing to secure their consent and often dispossessing them of their land and livelihoods in the process.

The World Bank's official role is to reduce poverty, which puts it at the centre of the developing world's farming industry. It lends $8bn (£5bn) a year to agricultural projects overseen by companies, countries and investment funds. However, Oxfam argues that, far from helping farmers, the World Bank frequently exacerbates the problem by helping to finance investments that amount to land grabs and often involve violence.

"The rush for land is out of control and some of the world's poorest people are suffering hunger, violence and greater poverty as a result," said the charity's chief executive Barbara Stocking.

The developing world – and Africa in particular – typically gets hit the hardest because property laws are weak or non-existent. In many cases, although families may have farmed a plot for generations, they often have no legal title, making it relatively easy for governments to sell the land, Oxfam says.

A World Bank spokesman disputed the need for a moratorium on lendings and said the group does "not accept the inference that the World Bank Group is facilitating or overtly supporting negative practices associated with large-scale land acquisitions".

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