LANDMAPPING.ORG

Visualising the rush for foreign land


The number of documented international land investments (aka land-grabbing) has been on the rise since 2000. Investors, whether private or governmental, are particularly interested in large-scale tracts of land located in the less-developed countries of the Global South. Inevitably, such investments have an economic, social, and environmental impact in the countries concerned.

This website demonstrates the link between several development indicators and the prevalence of large-scale land investments. A black figure represents the average individual impact of a single person; this figure will guide you as you work your way through the data.


Click the arrow below and move the red slider to explore the general forces that are driving growing demand for land and their effect on foreign land investments.



Resource Scarcity

Land and water are scarce resources and indispensible for the cultivation of agricultural products. Over the past few decades, the global per capita availability of land and water resources has decreased remarkably. The main reasons behind this ongoing shortage are the world’s growing population and increasing demand for food.

  • represents per capita availability in the year 1990
  • Arable land: ha per capita
  • Water resources: per capita

  • Global food demand: petacalories per day
  • Global population: billion
< Drag me

Explanation

The black figure represents the global per capita availability of arable land and renewable water resources. The land and water figures indicated are calculated accordingly to reflect one average person among the world’s inhabitants. However, the numbers for the line chart, global population and global food demand represent absolute values.

  • Global population figures are reported annually and are based on estimations and projections by the United Nations.
  • Global food demand shows the daily caloric intake of the world’s population. The term petacalories means a ‘million billion’ kilocalories, or a number of calories followed by 15 zeros.
  • Arable land includes all tracts of land which are used for agricultural activities such as crop cultivation or pastures. The figures represent per capita availability of land.
  • Water resources are based on figures for renewable water resources, including ground water and surface water. The numbers represent the global per capita availability of renewable water resources for human use such as agriculture.
Please check the glossary for data sources and a discussion of data limitations.
Arable land and renewable water resources are the most vital input factors for agriculture as they are essential for the production of food crops, livestock and non-food agricultural products. There are several economic aspects, such as individual disposable income, that increase the demand for these products. 

How does income influence our demand for land and agricultural products?


Demand for land

Since each and every one of us consumes agricultural goods, we all have a certain demand for land. Agricultural products may serve as food, feed, fibre or fuel (also referred to as the 4 Fs). Given that rising incomes lead to increased consumption of these agricultural products, our individual demand for land is also growing.

  • represents per capita land demand for
  • Food
  • Feed
  • Fibre
  • Fuel
Low Income
< Drag me
High Income

Explanation

The black figure represents individual demand for land. It serves as a model on a global scale. In countries with low levels of economic development, and therefore low incomes, people depend on subsistence farming or use a large portion of their incomes to buy food. As disposable income grows, additional food, feed, fibre and fuel products are consumed, thereby increasing the demand for land.

  • The 4 Fs: Food, Feed, Fibre and Fuel – Demand for agricultural land may be categorized into these main groups of commodities.
  • Food: Includes staple food, other cereals, vegetables and fruits for human consumption.
  • Feed: All crops used as animal feed for meat production. If people have more income at their disposal, their diets include more meat. Producing 1kg of beef requires 15 times more land than producing 1kg of cereals.
  • Fibre: Products for industrial purposes such as rubber for tires or cotton for textiles. When our income increases, we tend to consume much more of these products, hence our demand for land grows.
  • Fuel: Agricultural products such as rapeseed, soy or sugar cane may be used for the production of biofuels. Growing demand for energy resources, fluctuating oil prices, and policy regulations such as the EU biofuel mandates prompt increases in biofuel production.
Please check the glossary for data sources and a discussion of data limitations.

The amount of land required for each of the 4 Fs varies at different income levels. For individuals with little income, the land is used mainly to produce food, whereas individuals with higher incomes require more land for the production of feed and fuel. Therefore, every individual contributes to the growing demand for land to varying degrees. However, the demand for land also varies greatly from one country to the next.

Do countries with higher income levels have a greater demand for land and resources?


Consumption

Our demand for land and other resources can also be expressed as our ecological footprint. It indicates the total area needed to satisfy our consumption. On a global average, our footprint is larger than our biocapacity. In other words: our resource consumption exceeds the capacity of such resources to regenerate. These indicators vary greatly for different countries – some have excessively large footprints, others have biocapacity reserves. There is a strong link between a country’s income and its footprint.


represents per capita values
3.9gha Biocapacity 7gha
7gha Ecological footprint 1.4gha
-3.1gha Ecological deficit or reserve 5.6gha
$48,880 Income $5,785

Explanation

The concept of the ecological footprint – the impact our way of life has on our planet’s resources – is a well-known concept used to describe and discuss our resource consumption. Since both the ecological footprint and biocapacity are expressed in global hectares (gha), these two factors can be compared in order to determine whether or not a country’s footprint is too large. In most cases, countries with small footprints have low-income levels. Countries with high incomes, on the other hand, tend to have large footprints and ecological deficits.

  • The ecological footprint measures the supply of and demand on nature. On the supply side, biocapacity represents the planet’s biologically productive land areas including our forests, pastures, cropland and fisheries. These areas, especially if left unharvested, can also absorb much of the waste we generate, especially our carbon emissions.
  • Biocapacity can then be compared with humanity’s demand on nature: our ecological footprint. The ecological footprint represents the productive area required to provide the renewable resources humanity is using and to absorb its waste. The productive area currently occupied by human infrastructure is also included in this calculation, since built-up land is not available for resource regeneration.
  • Global hectare is a common unit that encompasses the average productivity of all the biologically productive land and sea area in the world in a given year. Biologically productive areas include cropland, forest and fishing grounds, and do not include deserts, glaciers, and the open ocean.
Please check the glossary for data sources and a discussion of data limitations.

Since our global footprint exceeds our planet’s biocapacity, we deplete resources faster than they are able to regenerate. This circumstance leads to an increasing demand for land. Many countries, especially those with high biocapacity deficits, invest in foreign land to satisfy their growing need for agricultural produce.

Do they invest in regions with biocapacity reserves?


Land Rush

Arable land and land in general have become a tempting investment target over the past two decades, and observers are even talking about a land rush. Rising, fluctuating food prices on international markets have intensified this rush for foreign land even further. Since the year 2000, a considerable number of foreign land investments have been documented.
  • Year: 1990
  • Total number of investments: 1,356
  • Total global area under investment: ha
  • Food price index: 164
< Drag me

Explanation

Public perception of these investments differs greatly as evidenced in the terminology used to discuss such land investments. The media predominantly refer to them as “neo-colonialism” or “land grabbing”, whereas scientific publications call them “foreign direct investment in land” or “large-scale land acquisitions”. In most cases it is difficult to get detailed information about these investments, since their terms and conditions are not accessible to the public. The main reason for this seems to be the lack of transparency in negotiations between the contract partners. Studies and research are largely based on grey literature, media reports, and internet blogs. The greatest contribution to current research is a comprehensive online database of over one thousand documented land investments from around the world which is published by the Land Matrix.

  • The number and size of foreign land investments indicated are based on the Land Matrix Database. It documents all land purchase deals since the year 2000. The visualisation includes only those deals that have already been closed; i.e. the investment is based on an oral agreement or a signed contract. Moreover, only land purchases comprising at least 200 hectares have been included. The visualisation contains all undated investments (those without a particular date on which the transaction has been finalized) for the year 1999.

  • The food price is based on the FAO Food Price Index. It measures the change in food prices on international markets, thus allowing a comprehensive overview of international food price trends.
Please check the glossary for data sources and a discussion of data limitations.
Get the Detail

Do these foreign land investments have specific characteristics and intentions?

click to unfold

Get the Detail

There are several different types of foreign land investments. While obtaining details about these activities is difficult in many cases, the information that is available reveals some insights into which characteristics these transactions share and what motivating factors could be behind investors’ decisions.


Explanation

The pie charts above offer some surprising insights. Most investments are not purchase contracts. Instead, the land is leased out for a certain period of time. Private companies are the major investors, and most investments focus on agriculture. All pie charts have a large slice categorized as “Other”. This category comprises all investments where specific contract information is missing.

  • Which sectors are involved?
Obviously, every investment in land is transacted with a specific economic intent. These intentions can be categorised by sector. Agriculture and forestry are the underlying purpose of the majority of these deals and are broken down even further in the following pie chart.

  • Which land uses are driving investments?
In most cases, investment details do not specify what investors intend to produce on the acquired (or leased) land, and the categories “Other” and “Agricultural (unspecified)” are quite large as a result. Apart from food crops, the land is most commonly used for the production of agrifuels, also known as biofuels.

  • What does a typical contract look like?
Foreign land investments are mainly based on lease contracts, i.e. the investor holds land use rights over a certain period of time. The number of actual land purchases by foreign investors is comparatively small.

  • Who are the investors?
Investment stakeholders range from governments to individual entrepreneurs. In most cases, though, the investors are private companies from the finance or the agricultural sector.

Please check the glossary for data sources and a discussion of data limitations.

In most cases, foreign land investments are based on long-term lease rights with terms ranging from 60 to 99 years. They mainly focus on agriculture and forestry. A majority of these investments, in turn, are made for the purpose of producing food crops while an astonishingly large percentage is aimed at producing biofuels. Apart form private investors, there are also many governments behind the investment operations.


Food price trends have prompted numerous investors to acquire land around the globe in recent years. There are many players involved in the emerging business of foreign land investments, some acting as investors and others providing the land for investment.

Yet where do these investors come from and where are their investments located?


Map of Investments

Foreign land investment is an international phenomenon that involves every single region in the world, either as a provider of land or as an investor in it. Some regions seem to be hotspots for land investments. The red lines show international investment activities, linking investors’ region of origin with the target regions of their investments.


  • Invested ha
  • Provided ha

Explanation

The Map of Investments is based on the Land Matrix Database. Deriving its information from a variety of sources, the Land Matrix monitors all traceable land investments and integrates them into the data set. In many cases, foreign land investments are not made public so it may safely be assumed that the data is fragmentary and does not accurately depict the real situation.

The number and size of foreign land investments indicated are based on the Land Matrix Database. It documents all land purchase deals since the year 2000. The visualisation considers only those deals that have already been closed; i.e. the investment is based on an oral agreement or a signed contract. Moreover, only land purchases comprising at least 200 hectares have been included.

Please check the glossary for data sources and a discussion of data limitations.

Get the Detail

Where do the countries invest?

click to unfold

Get the Detail

So far 137 countries have engaged in foreign land investments, whether as investors or providers of land for investments. A closer look at country-specific information reveals where the largest investors come from and the regions where their investments are located.


invested ha worldwide: No investments known.

Explanation

The target regions of the investments can be broken down into 16 sub-continents. Many sub-continental regions include countries that could represent substantial percentages of the investment volume. The Land Matrix Database offers a closer look at national figures.

The number and size of foreign land investments indicated are based on the Land Matrix Database. It documents all land purchase deals since the year 2000. The visualisation considers only those deals that have already been closed; i.e. the investment is based on an oral agreement or a signed contract. Moreover, only land purchases comprising at least 200 hectares have been included.

Please check the glossary for data sources and a discussion of data limitations.

Most investor countries have made investments in several regions around the globe. Some regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa or South-East Asia have provided large tracts of land for foreign investments. Why are these regions particularly attractive for investors to lease or purchase large areas of land?


Some regions and countries are particularly active in foreign land investments. Apart from the increasing demand for land, there are several different explanations and reasons behind their involvement.

Which are the largest investor and provider countries and what is their motivation?


Comparison

Some countries are particularly active in terms of foreign land investments. Each of the top 10 investor and provider countries have either bought, leased, or provided over a million hectares of land. A comparison based on economic and ecological factors highlights how dissimilar investor and provider countries are.


Top Investors

Top Providers

HDI
Corruption
m³ per capita
Water resources
m³ per capita
tons
Food aid
tons
invested in :
ha
represents per capita values
3.9gha Biocapacity 7gha
7gha Ecological footprint 1.4gha
-3.1gha Ecological deficit or reserve 5.6gha
$48,880 Income $5,785

Explanation

The debate about foreign land investments, also known as land grabbing, is highly controversial, especially with regard to countries that offer up vast tracts of land to foreign investors. Some argue that it could have tremendously negative effects on local livelihoods. Others hold the opinion that the recent rush of foreign investments could be a chance to improve the agricultural sectors in countries that host such investments. The Comparison chart applies indices that are often discussed in order to assess foreign land investments.

  • The number and size of foreign land investments indicated are based on the Land Matrix Database. It documents all land purchase deals since the year 2000. The visualisation considers only those deals that have already been closed; i.e. the investment is based on an oral agreement or a signed contract. Moreover, only land purchases comprising at least 200 hectares have been included.

  • Water resources are based on figures for renewable water resources, including ground water and surface water. The numbers represent the per capita availability of renewable water resources for human use such as agriculture in the respective country.

  • The ecological footprint measures the supply of and demand on nature. On the supply side biocapacity represents the planet’s biologically productive land areas including our forests, pastures, cropland and fisheries. These areas, especially if left unharvested, can also absorb much of the waste we generate, especially our carbon emissions.

  • Biocapacity can then be compared with humanity’s demand on nature: our ecological footprint. The ecological footprint represents the productive area required to provide the renewable resources humanity is using and to absorb its waste. The productive area currently occupied by human infrastructure is also included in this calculation, since built-up land is not available for resource regeneration.

  • Human Development: The Human Development Index measures a country's overall prosperity on a scale of 0 to 1, with 0 being the worst, and a score of 1 representing the best performance. The index considers factors such as life expectancy, education, and income.

  • Corruption: The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) measures the perceived level of public sector corruption. A score of 0 indicates a highly corrupt public sector and a score of 100 suggests that it is very clean and correct.

  • Food Aid: Describes how many tons of food a country received from international donors. Food aid is received by least-developed and low-income countries where victims of natural disasters, refugees, displaced people and the hungry poor face severe food shortages. 
Please check the glossary for data sources and a discussion of data limitations.