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Land deals 'leave locals homeless'

Millions of acres in poor countries are being bought up in large-scale "land grabs" which are leaving local communities homeless and without anywhere to grow food, Oxfam has said.

The aid agency warns that the deals in countries such as Uganda, Indonesia and South Sudan are ignoring the rights of people surviving off the land and leaving them without land on which to live or farm.

A report from the charity claims more than 20,000 people lost their homes and land in evictions in Uganda to make way for a UK-based timber company, the New Forests Company, to grow plantations.

"Land grabs" have accelerated since 2008, when soaring prices brought the issue of food security into sharp focus, and are driven by efforts to produce enough food for people in other countries, targets for using biofuels and speculation in the search for profit, Oxfam said.

It is estimated that as much as 560 million acres have been sold, leased or licensed in large-scale land deals since 2001, mostly by international investors.

Oxfam said that a lack of transparency over the deals made them hard to confirm but that 1,100 deals covering 165 million acres - an area the size of Germany - have been cross-checked by the Land Matrix Partnership, a coalition of academic, research and non-governmental organisations.

The charity warned the situation is likely to get worse as increasing demand for food, the pressures of climate change, water scarcity and competition for land from non-food crops such as biofuels to power vehicles all take their toll.

Oxfam chief executive Dame Barbara Stocking said: "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. The blinkered scramble for land by investors is ignoring the people who live on the land and rely on it to survive."

The charity is calling for the grievances it has highlighted in Uganda, Indonesia, Guatemala, South Sudan and Honduras to be settled and for the balance of power to shift to local rights holders and communities.

The report warns that rural communities rarely have full legal title to the land documented and women, who produce up to 80% of food in some countries, generally have weaker land rights.

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