Commercialisation of Land and ‘Land Grabbing’: Project overview

Signpost to customary land, Zambia (CIFOR/Flickr)

The project Commercialisation of Land and ‘Land Grabbing‘: Implications for Land Rights and Livelihoods in Southern Africa investigates the multiple pressures towards the commercialisation of land in Southern Africa – part of a phenomenon that has accelerated since the ‘food price crisis’ of 2007-2008.

It will provide grounded evidence on how deals are structured, how people respond to them, and the adequacy of existing land rights to protect local people.

Land is increasingly commercialised through the leasing, concessions or sale of public and communal lands to foreign companies and governments for food production, for tourism developments, for biofuel production, and for other commercial agricultural uses.

This is a three year project, which runs until 2014.

What the project will study

The project will critically investigate

  • the impact of commercialisation of land impact on land rights
  • how land users are responding, their views of the deals and their impacts
  • how governments and other authorities in the region are responding to (and promoting or opposing) major transnational land deals.

The project team will work with local land users, through local research institutions, NGOs and other structures in five countries:

  • to document the land deals and their effects
  • to develop recommendations for policy, and
  • to inform advocacy in national, regional, continental and global contexts.


The overall objective is to show how good land governance is promoted through effective and sustainable decentralised land reforms, which contribute to resolving conflicts around diverse and contested land needs, specifically those arising in the context of the commercialisation of land and large-scale land acquisitions of land in Southern Africa.

The project aims to support policy makers and civil society organsiations with the information and capacity needed to make evidence-based policy to promote good land governance in, as well as alternatives to, large-scale land acquisitions. The objective of this is to protect people living on public and customary lands in Southern Africa from dispossession, and enable them to shape decisions concerning the use and transaction of their land.


Zambia: Evidence-based policy advocacy around large-scale land acquisitions in the field crop and mining sectors (Zambia Land Alliance)

Zimbabwe: Beneath and Beyond the Land Revolution: Lessons from Land Investments in Zimbabwe (Ruzivo Trust)

Mozambique: Large-scale land acquisitions, land tenure security and local communities’ livelihoods: Examples from PROSAVANA in Mozambique (Juventude Desenvolvimento e Advocacia Ambiental)

Malawi: Policy reforms and large scale land investments: Implications for food security and livelihoods of the rural poor in Malawi (LandNet Malawi)

Namibia: Investigating commercial irrigation land deals in Namibia’s communal areas focusing on the Kavango and Caprivi Regions (Legal Assistance Centre)



The project outputs will include, from early 2013:

  • Testimonials and photos from landholders and small-scale farmers at two research sites
  • Podcasts featuring affected landholders and small-scale farmers at our research sites
  • A database and clickable map showing details of large-scale land deals in Southern Africa
  • Research updates on emerging findings and outcomes of action research
  • Policy briefs summarising implications of findings for policy audiences
  • A final research report
  • Additional outputs will include newspaper articles, radio and television interviews, and academic articles in refereed international journals.


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