Contested Global Landscapes

A Multidisciplinary Initiative of the Cornell Institute for the Social Sciences

Mechanised agriculture in Tanzania

Land grabbing is never far from the headlines. It’s also an issue marked by secrecy in land deals themselves, as well as conflicts over evidence, causes and impacts. What should be done about land grabs, and who should do it, remains a topic of intense debate on the international stage.

So what new debates on this key global policy issues are emerging? The recent international conference on global land grabbing, convened by the Land Deal Politics Initiative (LDPI) and involving the Future Agricultures Consortium, explored a huge array of material on the subject across 120 papers and six plenaries.

What new perspectives were offered at the conference?  It is impossible to summarise everything of course, but there were a few things that struck me that had changed since the conference held at IDS in 2011, which I commented on in the closing session.

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Plenary session with Q&A at the 2nd International Conference on Land Grabbing at Cornell University, 17-19 October 2012. Chaired by Ian Scoones of the Institute of Development Studies.

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Guest blogpost by Kathleen Sexsmith, Cornell University Are foreign investors the real land-grabbers, or should we be assigning more responsibility to the local political actors who allow land deals to go through? At a panel on the importance of local...

Guest blogpost by Holly Buck, Cornell University

"How do we know what we know?" asked Marc Edelman in a roundtable on methodologies, rounding off day 2 of the Global Land Grabbing Conference.  Taking a historical perspective, Edelman pointed out that historical studies of land tenure show us numerous problems for measuring land: archaic units of contested sizes, antiquated surveying techniques, areas in titles that don't correspond to boundaries in reality, boundaries specified using markers that move, and a host of other practical challenges.

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Q: You said during the opening session: ‘How much more information is necessary for us to know that this land grabbing needs to stop’. Could you elaborate on what you meant?

Shalmali Guttal:  A few years ago when the term land grabbing exploded on the world scene, many of us who’ve been working on various rights to do with land and resource, had been using the word land grabbing for a very very long time. Then 4 or 5 years ago it becomes this big thing: oh, land grabbing is happening.  And we thought: that’s fine, at least the term is now going all over the world, and the impacts of these large scale land expropriations are going to finally be discussed.

One of the things we were always asked about is: where is the evidence?  And when the land grabbing craze hit the media, people started doing research frantically—and now, if you just Google “land grabbing” and see how much comes up, there have been so many studies in every country where there have been large scale land deals, and all of them show that this model is not working, and that this is a destructive model.

Nobody, even the World Bank, one of the biggest supporters of large scale land expropriations, is able to say that this kind of system works: that’s why they’re coming out with their own version of principles for agricultural investment—because they know that they cannot justify this.

So I guess my question now is that if we know all this, then how much more evidence is needed? Why are we still being asked to produce more evidence? How many details on the ground and how many details of the mechanics do we need to interrogate to put an end to this?

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José Graziano da Silva, Director General of the FAO, joined the conference by video on October 19, 2012 to discuss the FAO’s stance on global land acquisitions. You can also read a copy of the Director General’s remarks here.

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Jesse Ribot (University of Illinois) Melissa Leach (IDS) Lorenzo Cotula (IIED) Sam Moyo (African Institute of Agrarian Studies) Eric Holt-Gimenez (FoodFirst!)

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by Kathleen Sexsmith Although scholars on the Politics of Land Deals: Regional Perspectives panel on Oct 17th presented perspectives from disparate locations across the globe, their findings presented a number of commonalities in the ways these processes are taking place – and being resisted. The violent and coercive role of the state in the dispossession of agricultural producers in India and Ecuador was well documented by Michael Levien (Michael’s paper […]

Mamadou Goita of ROPPA, interviewed at the 2nd International Conference on Land Grabbing at Cornell University, October 2012.

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Interview with Tania Li from the University of Toronto. Taken at the 2nd International Conference on Land Grabbing at Cornell University, October 2012.

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