What if land grabbing was happening in Finland?

Finland, the land of the Santa Claus, sauna and startups is now a country also known for its vast land areas. Lately, the country has attracted dozens of investors who are willing to pay colossal sums for its land.

“Not only does Finland have plentiful beautiful women. It also has a conveniently small population living in a huge country. I mean there’s space everywhere. This is of course an incredible investment opportunity in a world where competition for farmland is getting more and more fierce”, says James Land Grabber Jr.

I am interviewing Land Grabber Jr in a small coffee shop in downtown Helsinki, the seashore capital of the northern country neighbouring Russia, Norway and Sweden.

Land Grabber Jr is part of a delegation visiting Finland for the purpose of buying land, an initiative hailed by the Finnish government during an economic downturn. The delegation consists mostly of business persons but also representatives of sovereign governments.

“There is no time to lose. In my country, Famerica, people are earning more and more and demand more meat products than our farmland can sustain”, Land Grabber Jr explains. “Therefore we are looking all over the world for land. In Finland us land investors have found our paradise. Huge areas of land combined with a small population that is relatively inexperienced in resistance movements.”

But what will the investors be growing here?

“In my country’s case we will start with faba bean. We’ll ship it back to Famerica and then produce feed for our livestock. In the second phase we’ll start producing biofuels because we want to lead the way in sustainability.”

The delegation has been criticized for lack of transparency and closed door policies.

“Nonsense. Absolute nonsense. Whatever they say we are doing, that is not the truth. We are only buying land that is idle. It’s really a win win situation for everyone.”

Meanwhile a group of landowners are demonstrating outside a municipal office in the city of Joensuu in eastern Finland.

They claim their land has been bought under very questionable circumstances. Some of the demonstrators are also saying the land grabbers are destroying the Scandinavian culture of “everyman’s rights“, the freedom to roam.

The purchased land has in some cases been heavily fenced and is guarded 24/7. “It’s like a military camp”, one of the demonstrators told me on the phone, adding: “Is this really the future we want?”.

“I don’t understand the problem here”, says Land Grabber Jr. “If in some case landowners or farmers have had to leave their land, we have paid them a massive sum of money to make up for that damage.”

I ask Land Grabber Jr how much the investors have paid the landowners.

“If I remember correctly it was something like 5000 euros. But it’s really up to the Finnish government to negotiate this further. We are merely businessmen.”

Before I leave he tells me: “Buying land is like buying stocks. You gotta know what’s going to be hot in 20 or 50 years’ time. Land will be a limited resource. Buy it now and make millions a few decades later when people or governments need the land for farming food. It’s not like we are buying this land just to grow food or feed. This is of course also about making money. A really astonishing business opportunity.”

* * *

The text you just read is of course fiction.

But large scale land acquisitions or land grabs are real and happening in various parts of the world as we speak.

Here are some facts about land grabbing:

  • Land grabs refer to the purchase of a land area larger than 200 hectares by a foreigner or an ‘outsider’
  • The top land grabbers (investors?) in the world are USA, India and China.
  • The top target countries for buying land are Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
  • The acquired land is used for food production (28 %), biofuels (19 %), wood and fibre (11%), tourism (10%), land speculation (10%) and other purposes, such as mining, livestock, industry and carbon sequestration.
  • Deals are mainly made by private companies and governments.
  • Two thirds of all land acquisitions made during 2000-2010 happened in countries which have serious food security problems.
  • Nobody seems to know the real data and numbers behind land grabs, and sometimes these land acquisitions are done by governments themselves in their own country.
  • The controversy of land grabs revolved around ethical issues. Land is mainly bought from areas where people due to circumstances are not able to assert their rights. We start talking about land grabs when deals happen “without the free, prior and informed consent of communities” (Oxfam).

Would we react differently to land grabs if they happened in Finland? Or Sweden? Or USA?

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