Just 1% of farms own 70% of the world’s farmland, a new study has revealed.

The study on global land pressures by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES Food) also showed that global land prices have doubled in the 15 years since 2008.

In central Europe, the price of land has tripled in the same time period.

Pressures on land availability and price are becoming increasingly acute, the study warns, with land now required for carbon and biodiversity offsetting and clean fuel schemes, leading to swathes of farmland being purchased by governments, corporations and investors.

Land approximately twice the size of Germany has been acquired through international deals since 2000, with 87% of these occurring in regions of high biodiversity.

IPES Food said this threatens food production, with this trend particularly affecting sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

Green grabs

The report states that “green grabs” on land now account for 20% of large-scale land deals, despite little evidence of climate benefits.

Governments' pledges for land-based carbon removals add up to almost 1.2bn hectares, the equivalent of the total area of global cropland, it stated.

The report also highlighted that carbon offset markets are expected to quadruple in the next seven years.

Nearly 45% of all farmland investments in 2018, worth roughly $15bn, came from pension funds and insurance companies.

Between 2005 and 2017, pension, insurance and endowment funds invested an estimated $45bn in farmland globally.

Land squeeze

The panel of experts said the “land squeeze” is causing inequality and making small- and medium-scale food production increasingly unviable.

“Farmers, peasants and indigenous peoples are losing their land, or forced to downsize, while young farmers face significant barriers in accessing land to farm,” it said.

Commenting on the report, IPES Food expert in Kenya Susan Chomba said the land squeeze threatens food production.

“The rush for dubious carbon projects, tree planting schemes, clean fuels and speculative buying is displacing small-scale farmers and indigenous peoples.

“In Africa, powerful governments, polluting fossil fuel companies and big conservation groups are elbowing their way on to our land under the veneer of green goals, directly threatening the very communities bearing the brunt of climate change,” she added.

IPES Food expert in Canada Nettie Wiebe said land prices have risen for 20 years in North America.

“Farmland is increasingly owned not by farmers, but by speculators, pension funds, and big agribusinesses looking to cash in.

“Land prices have skyrocketed so high it's becoming impossible to make a living from farming. This is reaching a tipping point – small and medium scale farming are simply being squeezed out.”