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The combat against desertification under the threat of international finance. (Ed. # 46)

Newsletter AGTER. September 2019

In 2014, Sandrine Feydel and Denis Delestrac drew the attention of European public to the dangers of the financialisation of nature in the excellent documentary « Nature, the new eldorado of finance » broadcast by ARTE.

« How much is nature worth? How much can it bring in? The race for widespread profit and the global market have contributed significantly to the current ecological crisis. Yet the worlds of economics and finance claim to reverse the trend and save the planet by protecting it in their own way, with money. It is indeed the emergence of a new market, that of environmental protection} » (Source: Nature, nouvel eldorado de la finance).

It will come as no surprise to anyone that speculators are eager to exploit new opportunities. On the other hand, it is extremely worrying that the governments of the majority of the world’s states should validate their theses and call on them to save agricultural land.

In fact, at the 14th Conference of the Parties (COP14) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) held in New Delhi in September 2019, were again included in the official texts clear injunctions to mobilize private investors to address the growing disaster of agricultural land degradation worldwide. Among the many objectives selected, « the Conference invites Parties […] to consider […] Encouraging responsible and sustainable investment by the private sector in land restoration, conservation and improvement, and livelihood development, as well as exploring how to develop a business case, including the consideration of public funding to facilitate increased private investment » (source UNCCD).

In addition to the risk of public funds being subordinated to the interests of large private investors, it is clear that Sustainable Land Management (SLM) is destined to become a new market, a godsend for making profits. Some call this « impact investing », a seemingly generous concept that in practice provides public funds for the development of large private companies. (source IFC)

At the end of the conference, the 196 UNCCD Member States committed themselves to Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) by 2030. In the words of COP14 itself, this means « reviewing development policies, including land use policies and agricultural practices, to promote large-scale ecological regeneration », but also « following the Guidelines for Responsible Governance of Land Tenure for Land, Fisheries and Forests to manage the effects of LDN measures on land tenure systems » and finally « including land security in national strategies to achieve the LDN ». (source: UNCCD).

What will these beautiful principles be worth, since the responsibility of the financialisation of agriculture in the processes of exclusion of peasants and land degradation (through deforestation for plantations, through intensive agriculture) is not recognized, and that this same financialisation is promoted as one of the solutions? What will be the modalities for making the invested capital profitable and how can they be compatible with this call for land security for farmers?

It is noteworthy that the issue of land insecurity was in fact at the center of the reflection carried out during COP14, while the major issue of insufficient access to agricultural land for small-scale farmers has not been highlighted. How can we ignore the fact that the unbearable scandal of hunger for nearly 2 billion people (those who are hungry every day as well as those who cannot feed themselves according to their needs) is closely linked to an inequitable access to land for farmers? Indeed, the ¾ of those who suffer from hunger are peasant families, with no or insufficient access to land. COP14 therefore highlighted land insecurity without including the burning issue of inequalities in access to land.

Philippe Lavigne Delville, research director at the IRD (French Research Institute on Devopment) and member of AGTER, was recently invited to participate in Anne Cécile Bras’ programme « C’est pas du vent » on RFI (see article below). He reminds us that « most investment in agricultural land is made by peasants, in labour rather than capital or money », and that therefore « since family farmers are in viable economic conditions, they are the best stewards of nature ».

The rationale for mobilizing private capital to invest in the rehabilitation of degraded land is that of granting or leasing land for 20, 40, 50 years or more and then leasing-it back to new producers. However, it is clear that « the rates of return sought by international investors are incompatible with what can be expected from land leases to small farmers ». This new orientation therefore carries the risk of amplifying the grabbing of agricultural land by an ever smaller number of non-rural actors, which will inevitably reinforce « the logic of dispossessing family farmers in favor of a financialisation of agriculture and the environment ».

Translated with, proofread by the author.

Denis Pommier is agro-economist. He is a founding member of AGTER.


In connection with the September editorial, you will find an article referring to Philippe Lavigne Delville’s recent intervention on RFI, as well as the English translations of the summary of the December 2017 workshop on Soil Carbon Sequestration, and the conclusions of the round table that discussed the links with public policies (2 texts already available in French on

We would particularly like to draw your attention to two other documents proposed below:

  • the first result of the work carried out in 2018 by the Technical Committee on Land and Development on the evolution of agrarian structures in the world and young people’s access to land, co-led by AGTER: a special issue of the journal Regards sur le foncier on youth land access, containing a literature review and 7 articles on the intra-familial management of land.

  • the publication of the book La terre en commun by Dominique Potier, Pierre Blanc and Benoît Grimonprez.

Translated with, proofread by AGTER’s team.

Find here the full text AGTER newsletter of September 24, 2019