Politics of Poverty

At the center of challenges on climate change: Land

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Land in Cambodia
In northeastern Ratanakiri, Cambodia, Sal Ngoud and Yol Khlan in Tang Malou village, note: “This land is important. Without our land we can’t cultivate our crops and make a living. That’s why we want to protect our land for the next generation, and not have it occupied by investors, and big companies.” Photo: Savann Oeurm / Oxfam America

A timely new report from Oxfam and the International Land Coalition takes up the challenge of "land inequality" in food value chains. 'Doing Business on Uneven Ground' examines how food companies can continue to source agricultural commodities and reduce and remove emissions while advancing land equality.

The climate crisis is on everyone’s mind. With COP27 just around the corner, people across the globe are wondering what they can do to help fight against climate change, and demanding greater ambition and faster action by corporations to address their role in the climate crisis. This is especially true for food, beverage, and agricultural companies. (See the new report on this issue.)

Some of these companies are making plans to reduce emissions through “land-based climate solutions.” Think planting trees or agroforestry (growing trees within farming plots). But something crucial is missing from the conversation and commitments: The role of land, and peoples’ access to and control over it.

However, even though companies are investing in land-based climate solutions, they may not consider land as a salient issue. Companies rely on land to grow agricultural commodities like sugarcane, palm oil, and soy used in their products; this requires a lot of land. Land is the very foundation from which they do business.

Now here’s the problem: Land is a finite resource, and the more land that companies control (directly or indirectly via their operations, sourcing, or land-based climate solutions), the less is available for small-scale farmers, local communities, and global climate action.

Up to 2.5 billion small-scale food producers depend on land—for their livelihoods, food security, housing, and preservation of their cultures. As global demand for land increases, these are the people who will be further squeezed onto smaller parcels of land, or left landless. This is the heart of land inequality.

But how companies use land doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.

Doing business on uneven ground

Oxfam’s newest Briefing for Business, Doing Business on Uneven Ground, published with the International Land Coalition, takes up the challenge on inequality in food value chains. It examines how food companies can continue to source agricultural commodities and reduce and remove emissions while advancing land equality.

The briefing begins with the premise that companies’ land use needs to work for both people and the planet. It articulates how advancing land equality can help companies make long-lasting progress toward their climate, social and human rights commitments, and describes the ways in which companies control land (some obvious, like owning land, while others less so, like their procurement policies).

The briefing concludes with eight essential issues (see below) for business action and corresponding recommendations.


The recommendations are actionable and clear.

  • One is for companies to commit to promoting more local control of land across operations and value chains (corresponds with Essential Issue #1).
  • Another is to engage directly with relevant associations of small-scale farmers, Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs), and/or women’s networks as key parties in the design and implementation of landscape management approaches (corresponds with Essential Issue #5).
  • Related to land-based climate solutions, a key recommendation is that companies should apply robust safeguards, such as ensuring related land acquisitions do not result in forced evictions but instead help secure women’s and IPLCs’ land rights (corresponds with Essential Issue #4).

Land inequality is a foundational, cross-cutting issue that companies have a responsibility—and a capacity—to address.

At the end of the day, using land to do better by the climate—and to do business—shouldn’t cause harm to the people who are already there, and who can be the world’s most effective environmental stewards.

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