Country Case Studies: Transnational Commercial Land Deals in Africa

Ethiopia_grassThe convergence of global crises in food, energy, finance and the environment has driven a dramatic revaluation of land ownership as powerful transnational and national economic actors tap into lands outside their own borders to provide food and energy security at home. This is occurring globally, but there is a clear North-South dynamic that echoes the historical land grabs that underwrote both colonialism and imperialism. In addition, however, there is an emerging ‘North-South-South’ dynamic in the recent global land grab, with economically powerful non-Northern countries getting significantly involved. The lands of the Global South are increasingly perceived as sources of alternative energy (primarily biofuels), food crops, mineral deposits (new and old) and reservoirs of environmental services.

The pace and extent of these land deals has been rapid and widespread. The phrase ‘global land grab’ has become a catch-all phrase to describe and analyze the current explosion of (trans) national commercial land transactions. Around the world, various state, corporate and civil society groups have reacted, albeit in different ways. Some see this as a major threat to the lives and livelihoods of the rural poor worldwide, and so opposes such commercial land deals. Others see economic opportunity for the rural poor, although they are wary of corruption and negative consequences, and so calls for the improving land market governance feature prominently. And, of course, between these two extremes for and against large scale land purchases/sales are a range of intermediate positions offered by other groups.


In this context, in-depth and systematic enquiry is urgently needed in order to have deeper, meaningful and productive debates around causes and implications. FAC research will study the extent, nature and impact of what we define as define as cross-border, large-scale land deals in Africa that involve changes in land use and land property relations – through land purchases, land leases, and contract farming.

Focus of the research

The focus for the research is the politics of policy underlying transnational commercial land deals in Africa. The overarching question being addressed is: what transnational commercial land deals are underway in Africa, how are these structured and governed, and what is known about their impacts?


The studies are underway from the second half of 2010, and initial reports will be completed by March 2010 and presented at the Conference on Global Land Grabbing (co-hosted by FAC, PLAAS, LDPI, together with other partners), 6-8 April 2011, at the Institute for Development Studies, Sussex. The entire timeframe of these studies, however, extend to March 2013, allowing over two years of research into processes, outcomes and impacts, as well as publication, dissemination and policy engagement.