Draft report claims investor interest is focussed on countries with weak land governance.

A leaked World Bank report into investors from rich nations buying up African farmland has intensified campaigners' fears that the growing trend is marginalising local producers.

After a spate of investments in African land by sovereign wealth funds looking for gains on rising commodity prices and by countries such as China worried about their own food security, the World Bank launched research into the area. Its report is due to be published next month, but a draft copy leaked to the Financial Times painted a picture of largely speculative investment badly lacking agricultural expertise, and a rush towards countries with lax laws. It mentioned only a handful of successes.

“Investor interest is focused on countries with weak land governance,” the draft said. Although investment deals promised jobs and infrastructure “investors failed to follow through on their investment plans, in some cases after inflicting serious damage on the local resource base”. The report also flagged that “the level of formal payments required was low”, thereby fuelling speculative investment.

As commodity prices have soared on the back of rising global food demand, weather fluctuations and a growing biofuels industry, anti-poverty campaigners have grown increasingly concerned about land-grabbing in developing regions.

They argue that investors crowd out the poorest local producers and at the same time invest little in improving the agricultural processes needed to meet the huge jump in world food production required to feed a burgeoning population. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

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