Panel 20: POLITICS – Local Politics

A government-to-government land deal is often no more than a framework, under which concrete deals between agribusiness corporations and local government for the leasing of designated areas may or may not emerge. The actual “grabbing” of land – the dispossession and exclusion of local people and the enclosure of a tract of land for sale or lease to a corporate investor – is commonly done by local governments, working together with local and foreign corporations, and local elites. In nearly all cases the land appropriated in this way is the subject of contestation, and outcomes are determined by political processes involving state and non-state actors at many levels. This panel explores the workings of these processes.

Burnod and Rivo explore the paradoxical position of the Malagasy State, which attempts to promote the development of megafarms while at the same time implementing a land reform to protect local land rights. Two case studies analyse the strategy of investors to access land and the divergent reactions of local actors to these projects. Hilhorst, Nelen and Thea explore similar contradictions in several Francophone West African countries between high-level attempts to attract international agribusiness investors (and land grabbing by urban elites in anticipation of this) and official policy prioritising smallholder farming. They analyse the actors involved in the transfer of customary land to investors and the responses of local authorities and civil society organisations. Salerno examines the local political dynamics of a joint Saudi Arabia – Philippines land deal in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, in which smallholder land in customary tenure will be ceded to the authority of clan leaders who in turn will lease it to Saudi and Philippines joint-venture corporations, for the development of large-scale plantations, using the previous cultivators as wage labourers. Local responses to these developments are ambivalent. Evers and Berhanu present a new integrated research programme on the dynamics of large-scale land deals in Ethiopia, Madagascar and Uganda, with a special focus on „zones of intermediality? where local cultural references, practices and discourses encounter those of external actors.

Chair: Ben White, International Institute of Social Studies (ISS)

Claude Fortin