A Global Land Grab?


A convergence of factors has been driving a revaluation of land by powerful economic and political actors.

This is occurring across the world, but especially in the global South. As a result, we are seeing a dramatic rise in the extent of cross-border, transnational corporation-driven and, in some cases foreign government-driven, large-scale land deals unfolding worldwide. The phrase ‘global land grab’ has become a catch-all phrase to describe this explosion of (trans)national commercial land transactions revolving around the production and sale of food and biofuels, conservation and mining activities.

In-depth and systematic enquiry has become urgent and necessary in order to have deeper, meaningful and productive debates around this issue. This is the reason that theLand Deal Politics Initiative (LDPI)has been launched

Small grants opportunity
We are also announcing a small grants programmeas part of LDPI. Grants of up to US$2000 (exceptionally more) per study are available to successful applicants who wish to undertake original field research, carry out follow up fieldwork on an ongoing related initiative, or write up a paper based on research that is being/has been undertaken on any of the following themes (or combinations). The Future Agricultures Consortium will be supporting Africa-based research, with the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies coordinating the effort as part of the Consortium’s new ‘land and agriculture’ theme.

The initiative aims for a broad framework encompassing the political economy, political ecology and political sociology of land deals centred on food, biofuels, minerals and conservation. Working within the broad analytical lenses of these three fields, we will use as a general framework the four key questions in agrarian political economy:

(i) who owns what?
(ii) who does what?
(iii) who gets what? and
(iv) what do they do with the surplus wealth that has been created?

We will also ask questions about social and political relations: ‘what do people do to each other?’, and questions about people-environment interactions: ‘how do changes in politics get shaped by dynamic ecologies, and vice versa?’ The aim is to ask a range of big picture questions through detailed in-depth case studies in a number of sites globally, focusing on the politics of land deals.

Big questions
Some of the most urgent and strategic questions for the LDPI are:

  • What changes in broad agrarian structures are emerging? Are these new forms of agrarian capitalism or repeats of the past? What are the dynamics of international politics of land grabs in the broader context of energy, mining, forestry and conservation; and the role of big capital and powerful interests?
  • What is the nature and extent of rural social differentiation in terms of class, gender, ethnicity – following changes in land use and land property relations as well as organizations of production and exchange?
  • To what extent have agrarian political struggles been provoked by the new land investment dynamics? What are the issues that unite or divide the rural poor, organized movements, and rural communities around the issue of land deals? What alternatives are emerging?
  • What are the various competing policy and political narratives around the multiple crises of food, energy, climate and finance, and how have these shaped and been reshaped by land deal politics?
  • How have competing frameworks and views on land and property been deployed by various camps around the contested meanings of ‘marginal lands’ (or, idle’, ‘waste’, ‘unoccupied’ lands)?
  • What are the consequences for rural livelihoods and food security of new land deals? What patterns of displacement have occurred?
  • How are international policies of donors and other agencies influencing land deals? What are the limitations of suggested ‘code of conduct’, certification, regulation, information dissemination and capacity-building strategies?

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