The study ranked Israel sixth worldwide in buying land in poor countries – but the database on which the study was based may have been imprecise.
By Zafrir Rinat | Feb.05, 2013

The authors of a study examining the phenomenon of “land grabbing” – land purchases in poor countries by wealthy ones – will reexamine their conclusion that Israel is one of the top-ranked culprits. They decided to do so after learning that their assessment was based on imprecise data about an alleged Israeli deal in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The article, which appeared this month in The Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, sought to present a comprehensive global assessment of land-grabbing in poor countries done via the purchase or lease of land in foreign countries by private individuals or governments. The study also calculated the amount of water that was exploited together with the land.

The authors, researchers from Italy’s Polytechnic Institute of Milan as well as the University of Virginia, describe land grabbing as “a new form of colonialism that has intensified in the last four years.”

According to the study, Israel ranked among the top six land- and water-grabbing countries. The main source of information on which the researchers based their work was a database called Land Matrix, which provides information about land transactions. In many cases, land grabbing is considered potentially harmful to the food supply of local populations. In some locations, ecologically significant areas are disappearing as they are transformed into farmland for use by international corporations.

The Land Matrix database contained information about a large land purchase supposedly made by Israelis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The size of the deal put Israel near the top of the land-grabbing list. The land involved in the deal is to be used to grow jatropha trees to produce biofuel.
But a later look at the Land Matrix database failed to turn up any information about such a deal.

An Israeli contacted one of the researchers who conducted the study, Dr. Maria Cristina Rulli of the Polytechnic Institute of Milan. After reviewing the database, she admitted that the information about the deal was no longer there. She said she and her colleagues had checked Land Matrix on two occasions and found the deal that had been attributed to Israel listed there, though it had recently been removed.

Therefore, she said the research team will reexamine the data, and that they will modify their findings accordingly regarding Israel’s place on the list of land-grabbing countries in the next scientific publication dealing with land grabbing.