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LDPI

Land Deal Politics Initiative

The Land Deal Politics Initiative provides a global platform to generate solid evidence on the 'global land grab' phenomenon through detailed, field-based research.

The phrase ‘global land grab’ has become a catch-all phrase to describe and analyse 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.

These issues are being explored by the Land Deal Politics Initiative, as outlined further below. 

The second phase of grants programme has now begun, with a wide range of research projects being undertaken, while the first phase has concluded with a range of LDPI Working Papers published. In March 2011 and October 2012 we held Global Land Grabbing and Global Land Grabbing 2 conferences, bringing together research on land deals.

 

A conference will be held on 5-6 June 2015: Land Grabbing: Perspectives from East and Southeast Asia

 

Introduction and Context

The 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. 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.

Our research initiative

In this context, in-depth and systematic enquiry is urgently needed in order to have deeper, meaningful and productive debates around causes and implications. We propose this initiative as a means to 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.

The objective of this initiative is to provide a platform and network to generate solid evidence through detailed, field-based research that incorporates and complements a range of policy-oriented donor and NGO-led reviews, as well as more activist political work. We hope to build a public database with different viewpoints, studies and surveys outlining the extent, nature and impact of changes in land use and land property relations around the world. We will focus, ultimately, on the politics of land deals– something often lacking in the current debate – and therefore we embed the commercial act of exchanging land titles into a broader framework concerned with ‘land deal politics’. Through this initiative, we hope to dialogue with social movements, activists, policy makers, and concerned academics to produce data and discuss their implications.
This research initiative will initially be the joint effort of research initiatives or clusters in five academic institutions, namely,

  1. Institute for Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex, particularly the Future Agricultures Consortium (Ian Scoones)
  2. Initiatives in Critical Agrarian Studies (ICAS) at the International Development Studies Program of Saint Mary’s University in Canada (Saturnino ‘Jun’ Borras Jr.)
  3. International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in the Netherlands, particularly the Resource, Environment and Livelihoods (RELIVE) research cluster (Ben White)
  4. Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa (Ruth Hall): 
  5. The Polson Institute for Global Development in the Department of Development Sociology at Cornell University (Wendy Wolford) 

Although the initiative will be global in scope, initial efforts will concentrate in sub-Saharan Africa (facilitated by Ian Scoones at IDS and the Future Agricultures Consortium, in alliance with the Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa to be coordinated by Ruth Hall), Southeast Asia (facilitated by Ben White, RELIVE/ISS; and Jun Borras, ICAS/IDS-Saint Mary’s), and Latin America, especially Brazil (facilitated by Wendy Wolford, Cornell University).

Our intention is to foster a much wider network of researchers working on the underlying social and political dynamics of land deals across all regions through in-depth, rigorous research.

Analytical overview and big picture questions

In the LDPI we will aim 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 that Henry Bernstein has explained: (i) who own what? (ii) who does what? (iii) who gets what? and (iv) what do they do with the surplus wealth that have been created? We will add two additional key questions, highlighting political dynamics between groups and social classes: ‘what do they do to each other’?, and ‘how do changes in politics get shaped by dynamic ecologies, and vice versa?’ We will gather data at the global level as well as through detailed in-depth case studies in order to address several big picture questions cited below.

Our initial step will be to gather data through meta-reviews of the literature to try and understand what is currently known about the scope of changes in land use and land property relations worldwide. We will then gather data within more targeted national contexts to answer the initial questions of: what is happening (what land is changing hands and where?), who is engaged in land deals?, how (what are the legal, political and bureaucratic mechanisms that govern transactions?), for what purpose (what are the ostensible rationales for these land deals?).

All of these basic questions will help us to understand a broader set of “so what?” questions – this will be other, the main, component of our research. We will work within the basic data to include and conduct detailed case studies that analyze the effect – economic, political, ecological, and more – of changes in land use and land property relations.
Some of the most urgent and strategic questions here include but are not limited to:

  • What changes in broad agrarian structures are emerging? Are these new forms of agrarian capitalism or repeats of the past?
  • 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?
  • Have land deals undermined local level and national food security? How and to what extent? What have been the socially differentiated impacts on livelihoods by class, gender and ethnicity?
  • 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 are the various competing policy and political narratives and discourses around the multiple crises of food, energy, climate and finance, and how have these shaped and been reshaped by the land deal politics? How and to what extent has (trans)national finance speculation played a role in land deals in the context of the convergence of food, fuels, climate and finance crises? What narratives exist around ‘investment, growth and modernization’ versus ‘marginalization, displacement and impoverishment’, and so on?
  • How have competing frameworks and views on land property been deployed by various camps around the contested meanings of ‘marginal lands’ (or, idle’, ‘waste’, ‘unoccupied’ lands)?
  • What are the emerging trends around dynamics of power, elites and corruption; land as a source of patronage? How can we make sense of the politics of land deals in different contexts?
  • Have development-induced displacement and dispossession occurred? How and to what extent and with what immediate and long-term outcomes and implications for rural livelihoods, including new rural refugees or internally displaced peoples (IDPs)?
  • Have global land policies of different overseas development agencies (World Bank, FAO, EU, IFAD, and so on)contributed to facilitating/encouraging or blocking/discouraging land deals? What are the limitations of ‘code of conduct’, certification, regulation, information dissemination, and capacity-building strategies?
  • 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 are some of the relevant emerging alternatives from key actors? Are some of the traditional policies such as land reform, and some of the more recent alternative visions such as ‘food sovereignty’ (and ‘land sovereignty’) relevant and useful in protecting and promoting the interest of the rural poor in the midst of these (trans)national commercial land deals?

The LDPI approach

There are three main strategies in our work:

  1. Generating and incorporating research on these questions by providing coordinated seed grants, applied for through an open competitive process involving PhD students and post-doctoral researchers;
  2. The global coordinating team members, together with collaborators from different regions, will generate in-depth research and help systematize integrative cross-national and cross-regional comparative studies;
  3. Help create a ‘space’ in which we can have a mutually beneficial exchange of data, information, and knowledge with other critical actors who also have their distinct work on this theme, including (trans)national agrarian movements, independent think tanks, research institutions, development agencies, development policy experts and policymakers.

Our commitment to engaged research, means it is critical to help facilitate exchanges of information between different interested groups (academic, government officials, civil society professionals, researchers, agrarian movement activists) about what is happening in different geographic areas where significant land deals are happening. The LDPI Working Paper Series is the main initial publication outlet of the research outputs from our initiative, although the Working Paper Series will also accept submissions from authors who carried out studies outside the LDPI initiative. Papers published in this Series will be peer-reviewed.

Publications

So far the following publications have been released:

  1. LDPI Working Paper 1: Commercial Biofuel Land Deals & Environment and Social Impact Assessments in Africa: Three case studies in Mozambique and Sierra Leone by Maura Andrew & Hilde Van Vlaenderen
  2. LDPI Working Paper 2: The role of foreign investment in Ethiopia’s smallholder-focused agricultural development strategy by Tom Lavers
  3. LDPI Working Paper 3: Household Livelihoods and Increasing Foreign Investment Pressure in Ethiopia’s Natural Forests by Kathleen Guillozet and John C Bliss
  4. LDPI Working Paper 4: ‘Land belongs to the community’: Demystifying the ‘global land grab’ in Southern Sudan by David K Deng
  5. LDPI Working Paper 5: Who Gets the Human Appropriation of Net Primary Production?: Biomass Distribution & the ‘Sugar Economy’ in the Tana Delta, Kenya by Leah Temper
  6. LDPI Working Paper 6: LDPI Working Paper 6: Transforming traditional land governance systems and coping with land deal transactions
  7. LDPI Working Paper 7: Agricultural land acquisition by foreign investors in Pakistan: Government policy and community responses by Antonia Settle
  8. LDPI Working Paper 8. Gendered Dimensions of Land and Rural Livelihoods: The Case of New Settler Farmer Displacement at Nuanetsi Ranch, Mwenezi District, Zimbabwe by Patience Mutopo
  9. LDPI Working Paper 9: Conservation and ecotourism on privatised land in the Mara, Kenya: The case of conservancy land leases by Claire Bedelian
  10. LDPI Working Paper 10: Drivers and actors in large-scale farmland acquisitions in Sudan by Martin Keulertz
  11. LDPI Working Paper 11:  The mining-conservation nexus: Rio Tinto, development ‘gifts’ and contested compensation in Madagascar by Caroline Seagle