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World Bank must stop land grabbing and ecological destruction in Brazil

A World Bank project worth 120 million USD has been denounced by civil society to support a land-titling program in the Brazilian state of Piauí which de facto has been used by agribusiness to legitimize land grabs and the expansion of monocultures. A complaint filed by affected communities has been recently turned down by the Bank’s Inspection Panel.

In an open letter sent to the World Bank on 4 August, 2020, civil society organizations urge the Bank to take responsibility and action to ensure that its project “Piauí: Pillars of Growth and Social Inclusion” does not facilitate or legitimize land grabs. Traditional communities in the region of MATOPIBA have witnessed several human rights violations, including dispossession, violence and destruction of their ecosystems and livelihoods because of agribusiness expansion and land speculation. In order to legalize their operations, land grabbers, often sponsored by transnational investors including US and European pension funds, aim to receive land titles by using the Land Tenure Regularization Program – program implemented by the state of Piauí and supported by the World Bank.

Several communities located in the southwest of Piauí submitted a formal complaint to the World Bank’s Inspection Panel, the agency’s internal watchdog, in December 2019, asking for swift action by the Bank to ensure that the project does not legitimize land grabs and ecosystem destruction. In a response to the complaint, the World Bank management denied any responsibility for alleged human rights violations, stating that these did not relate to the project’s activities and were beyond the bank’s control. After conducting an eligibility visit to Brazil, the Inspection Panel’s final report confirmed this view and clearly declined the need for an in-depth investigation.

“The World Bank and its Inspection Panel claim that project funding has not been used to legalize land grabs or to issue land titles to large-scale land owners. However, there is a clear link between the project and the current dynamics of land grabbing, speculation and dispossession of rural communities as well as ecosystem destruction in Piauí,” says Philip Seufert, Natural Resources Coordinator at FIAN International.

Although Brazilian law explicitly recognizes the rights of traditional communities who have used their land for several generations, in practice communities’ rights are not effectively protected. Piauí’s recently revised land law clearly states that traditional communities need to be prioritized in the land regularization process. Following pressure exercised by communities and supporting organizations, the World Bank included eight communities into their land titling project in 2018. However, until today none of these communities has received the requested collective land titles.

"We expect the World Bank to cooperate with Piauí authorities to give priority to the regularization of land titles of rural communities, in particular those most threatened by dispossession, and to suspend the issuing of titles to large plantation owners and  agribusiness corporations,” says Felipe Bley-Folly, Country Desk Officer for Brazil and Coordinator of the Justiciability Program at FIAN International. “The World Bank is a UN institution and therefore bound to respect human rights, including rural communities’ right to land and related natural resources, as enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP)”, Bley Folly affirms.

For further enquiries, please contact bley-folly(at)

Read the open letter

More background information on the case of Matopiba at

More background information on the World Bank Inspection Panel process at