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World Bank urged to help stop 'land grabs' in Africa

TOKYO -- Anti-poverty activists posing as digger-driving investors staged a symbolic land grab in Tokyo on Wednesday as they called on world finance chiefs to help keep food prices under control.

Seven young men and women, dressed in dark suits and flashing thousand-yen bills, rode toy diggers and excavators over a map of Africa, picking up paper fruit and vegetables.

“Grab the land!” “A million people here. It's so cheap!” “Give me the pineapples!” the actors from aid group Oxfam shouted.

The demonstration took place as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank held their annual gatherings in the Japanese capital, which are expected to focus on boosting the global economy.

Oxfam called on the World Bank to temporarily freeze its agricultural investments in land to prevent what it called “land grabs.”

“As food prices rise, investors are buying up huge tracts of land. In the last 10 years, land in developing countries six times the size of Japan has been sold,” an Oxfam statement said.

“Too often, these deals are 'land grabs' in which poor people are evicted without consultation or compensation.”

Oxfam's land campaign director Hannah Stoddart said the situation was urgent.

“In 2008, when there was the last big increase in food prices, investments in land and land deals went up significantly by about 200 percent,” she said.

“With food prices remaining high and potentially getting higher, that will potentially lead to another big rush for land as land remains a very attractive investment.”

She said she wanted the public to “put pressure on the World Bank to play a critical role as a global leader and to stop land grabs.”

A spokesman for the World Bank rejected the criticism, saying Oxfam had “missed the mark.”

He said the World Bank invested more than US$5 billion in agriculture in developing and middle-income countries in the last financial year.

Those funds helped smallholders to provide irrigation and local communities to get access to land rights, he said.

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 75% of African nations face food shortage threat: report 
Members of advocacy group Oxfam struggle on farming toys on a large map of Africa during a demonstration to stop land grabs in Africa at a studio in Tokyo, Wednesday, Oct. 10. (AFP)

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