A farmer uses a foot pump to irrigate his crops in Mwingi
A farmer uses a foot pump to irrigate his crops in Mwingi Reuters

Poor farmers worldwide are being displaced and left destitute by land takeovers, a study by Oxfam warns.

The reports says up to 227 million hectares (560 million acres) have been sold or leased worldwide since 2001, citing data from the Land Matrix Partnership, a coalition of academic, research and non-governmental organisations.

Africa has been most affected, especially vulnerable communities in Uganda and South Sudan, but other countries including Honduras, Guatemala and Indonesia are also included in the study.

The report quotes peasants who say they were evicted violently and left with nothing, as they now have nowhere to grow food and as a consequence cannot afford to send their children to school anymore.

Oxfam is working alongside affected communities to help people get compensation or equivalent land.

Oxfam's Chief Executive, Barbara Stocking, warned the "blinkered scramble" for land by investors was denying the needs of those who live on the land and depend upon it for their survival.

"Many of the world's poorest people are being left worse off by the unprecedented pace of land deals and the frenetic competition for land," she said.

Oxfam's report also highlight that fact that once again women are among the worst affected by these so-called land grabs, as they still suffer the consequences of weaker land rights despite being responsible for producing up to 80 percent of food in some of the counties studied.

"Investors, no matter how noble they pertain to be, cannot sweep aside the needs and rights of poor communities who depend on the land they profit from," Stocking said.

Oxfam notes that since 2008, a time which saw land grabs expanding, food prices started to soar, immiserating the poorest and depriving them of basic necessities.

The situation is likely to worsen in the future as an increasing demand for food, combined with climate change and the increase of agricultural land being used to grow biofuels portend more land seizures.

In order to prevent the situation from deteriorating further Oxfam called on the European Union to scrap its target of obtaining 10 percent of transport fuels from renewable sources by 2020 and called for investors and governments to implement stronger policies to ensure land deals are fair and will not push local communities into even more precarious situations.

The practice of confiscating or buying up huge areas of land in poorer countries to grow cash crops like sugar harks back to the colonial era, and it seems that as the race for land and natural resources continues, the same violent and dangerous processes are being repeated in the name of development.