The database, lifts the lid on a decade of secretive deals struck by governments, investors and speculators seeking large tracts of fertile land in developing countries around the world.
The past five years have seen a flood of reports of investors snapping up land at rock-bottom prices in some of the world's poorest countries. But, despite growing concern about the local impacts of so-called "land grabs", the lack of reliable data has made it difficult to pin down the real extent and nature of the global rush for land.
Researchers estimate that more than 200m hectares (495m acres) of land – roughly eight times the size of the UK – were sold or leased between 2000 and 2010. Details of 1,006 deals covering 70.2m hectares mostly in Africa, Asia and Latin America were published by the Land Matrix project, an international partnership involving five major European research centres and 40 civil society and research groups from around the world.
It is the first time a comprehensive list of international land deals has been collected and made public. The database relies on a wide variety of sources – including media reports, academic research and field-based investigations – to add detail to a global phenomenon notoriously shrouded in secrecy.
A separate report published on 25 April 2012 by the International Land Coalition, the NGO Global Witness, and the US-based Oakland Institute, denounced the "secretive culture" around large-scale land deals, and demanded governments and businesses disclose contracts and detailed information about potential risks and impacts of land-based investments.
"Far too many people are being kept in the dark about massive land deals that could destroy their homes and livelihoods," says Megan MacInnes, senior land campaigner at Global Witness. "Companies should have to prove they are doing no harm, rather than communities with little information or power having to prove that a land deal is negatively affecting them."