Land grabbing Q&A: Shalmali Guttal, Focus on the Global South

Q: What kind of role do you think academics and research can play in positively advancing people’s livelihoods, in the land grabbing struggle? What are some strengths, or things that could be changed? Do you think this conference is a move in the right direction?

Shalmali Guttal:  Well I think the conference and the whole LDPI initiative is definitely a move in the right direction. Basically what it’s doing is building up a larger community of scholars and researchers who are interested and committed to exploring the issue of land grabbing and resource grabbing and all those various grabs from different viewpoints, and from actually a people and communities point of view you know.

The community of people I’ve met here from academia are really the most empathetic and sympathetic I’ve met. I got to a lot of policy meetings, and I cannot tell you the hostility, or the tensions that come up because if you’re not there speaking a so-called neutral line, then you’re not welcome – immediately you are seen as too advocacy-oriented or they’ll say you know, you have a bias, etc, etc so somehow you’ll have to be neutral, as though policy making ever was neutral.

One of the things that would be great is if people here, and other academics who are engaged in this kind of study, can actually fan out, make a larger community, enlarge the community of researchers and scholars who are thinking this way, and make very hard proposals: find ways in which the knowledge that they’re generating can be translated into hard power, into policy, into regulation, into things that we can use at national and local levels to stop land grabbing. If the findings just stay as papers I fear that’s not going to happen.

Maybe academics need to write more in popular journals and find ways to get involved in national legislative processes, or become advisors to social movements – you know, come offer your advice, offer your services to social movements and say ‘I’m here, use me’. It would be a huge help when we’re arguing for developing certain policies or legal strategies or laws/regulations, that we can have academics and researchers who are qualified in the mainstream parlance to do this, to actually help us put those things together, because we don’t have that now.

Is there anything else you want to say to researchers?

It would be good if you all found ways in which you could integrate what other types of researchers or other, you know communities, other social movements are saying, and integrate them into the work that you do. So that it does find space in official discourse, rather than getting marginalized into a box.

Interview by Paul Berry, Cornell University

Land Grabs II conference website