Motivation for Land Grab Research

inspecting_smallholder The convergence of global crises in food, energy, finance and theenvironment 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 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. Research by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), estimated the extent of land deals in Africa at 2.5 million hectares between 2005 and mid 2009. Estimates by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) placed the total amount of lands to exchange hands at 20 million hectares globally over the same period. Major areas of rapid expansion in plantation crops include South America and Southeast Asia, while in sub-Saharan Africa major land deals have been negotiated in many countries.

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 that involve changes in land use and land property relations – through land purchases, land leases, and contract farming. {jathumbnail off}