Researchers at Lund University in Sweden found that most of the world’s countries had bought or sold land internationally as of 2012 – 126 of the 195 countries recognized by the UN, according to their report. But the trade is dominated by just a few players, namely China, the U.K. and the U.S.
The global land trade also appears to reflect the uneven power relationship between the rich and the poor. With a few notable exceptions, the more developed countries of North America and Europe, Asia’s emerging economies, and the oil exporters of the Middle East are the ones buying up land, while the countries selling land are poorer nations in Africa, South America, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe.
The map below shows where governments and agribusinesses are buying and leasing land in foreign countries. Countries that are more engaged in buying land internationally are shown in grey or shades of yellow, while countries that sell more land are shown in red. The bigger the circle, the more trading partners a country has.
China ranks as the most active country in the world in land trade, purchasing land from 33 countries and but selling it to only three. The U.S. is a close second, buying land from 28 countries and selling to three, following by the U.K., which bought land from 30 countries.
The next three most active countries, Brazil, Australia and Ethiopia, are all net sellers of their land. Argentina, the Philippines, Sudan, Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania and Russia have also sold land to more countries than they have bought from. Singapore and the Netherlands, densely populated areas with limited agricultural land, are also net purchasers, as are Germany, India, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and South Africa.
The amount of land being bought and sold internationally is small, but definitely not insignificant. According to a study published in 2013, about 0.75-1.75 percent of the world’s agricultural land has been exchanged through international deals. That total is likely to increase in coming years, as the world population grows, living standards continue to rise, and constraints on water and other natural resources increase.