Panel 1: Framing the Debate: Global Perspectives
Farshad Araghi’s talk centrally identified four historical transformations of land rights, namely primitive accumulation, colonial accumulation, developmentalist land rights and neoliberal land rights, and traced the historical conditions of modern land grabs. Tania Li discussed “what makes land amenable to investment” and paid particular attention to the graphic and document devices, e.g. productivity figures and risk estimates, used by the financial and multilateral investment sectors to simplify land tenure relations and persuade capitalists of various kinds to invest on land acquisitions and agriculture more generally. Philip McMichael presented his new paper coming out in Globalizations in which he discusses some land grabs as a new form of “security mercantilism”. He emphasized three main shifts in the Food Regime: 1) states buying land offshore to secure access to land and food; 2) a proliferation of governance mechanisms for enabling land privatization through “soft laws” and 3) a contradiction of trend 1 above with WTO free trade governing rules. Finally, Pauline Peters underlined the role of the current land grab in reinforcing the misguided idea of seeing customary tenure as a constraint to agricultural development. She emphasized the diversity of customary tenure and agro-ecological systems in Africa, and the need to reinvigorate a rural development agenda that focuses on securing (customary) tenure and supporting smallholders’ agriculture. This has to be done against the current ideology that supports large-scale agriculture and the continuous creation of “surplus labour” through direct and indirect dispossession. The discussion session involved varied questions and comments from an engaged and participatory audience. The issues discussed included, among others: differentiating between investors’ categories and perceptions of risk; analyzing the potential synergies between small-scale and large-scale agriculture through life histories; reflecting further on the complementarity of state (regulations & organisations) and private capital in the facilitation and realization of land grabs; and distinguishing analytically land rights from ownership.
Panel 2: Understanding the Grabbers I: The Role of Emerging Economies
This panel interrogated the intersection of infrastructure and land – the impact of infrastructural development on land markets – in India, China and Brazil. Joshua Muldavin’s paper displayed broadly the role of Chinese state in both the domestic land grabbing and international land grabbing. Giuseppina Siciliano’s paper explored the social and environmental implications of development-induced displacement and domestic land grabbing in China. Marcos A. Pedlowski’s paper discussed the startling case happening in a coastal area located northern Rio de Janeiro state where hundreds of small farmers families were forcefully removed from their land to allow the construction of the Açu Superport Industrial Complex. Sudeshna Mitra’s paper analyzed new peri-urban sub-cities in Kolkata and Hyderabad, developed through state-supported, large-scale land acquisition and displacement of peri-urban populations. Sai Balakrishnan’s paper argued that the core of India’s land conflicts was the shift in the value of land as previously determined by fertility to now being determined by location. A theme common to all the papers was the problematization of compensation, looking at the different rules and forms of compensation. The panel concluded with some open questions on how to engage with these forms of infrastructural development towards more emancipatory futures.
Panel 3: Governance I: Territorial Control and Regulation
The panel addressed a broad range of empirical and theoretical aspects of territorial restructuring and land grabs, including infrastructure and logistics through oil booms; ethnic struggles, identity and claims to land; claims to sustainability by certified soy expansion and framing by global governance institutions. Coping, regulation and resistance on the ground and through institutions at different scales appeared thin, sometimes contradictory and uneven.
Panel 4: Resistance I: Movements Gaining Momentum
Four papers were presented on this first panel on resistance and movements. Three examined Latin American cases (Nicaragua – Bradley Wilson, Mexico – Diane Rocheleau and Chile –Cristian Alarcon) while the fourth one looked at India (Maharastra state –Rohit Mujumbar). Rather than synthesizing each of them, what seems more fruitful is to look at cross-cutting themes and issues that emerged from the presentations and the discussion that followed:
On methodology: In all papers, the issue of methods came out. What seemed clear in the first two papers (Wilson and Rocheleau), but also in the other two, though to a lesser extent, was the importance of oral histories, interviews, participatory approaches and field observation. Such field methods can allow for a better and much richer understanding of how land grab, appropriation and use are rooted in specific socio-cultural contexts, located within specific histories and local dynamics. In order to get a sense of how resistance is constituted and understood by participants, interviews, dialogues and iterative conversations become key modalities. Such rooted and ethnographic approach can reveal how collective and shared memory is being constructed and becomes both a reservoir for modes of collective action as well as a matrix on which resistance is weaved upon.
On history: In all papers, the importance of past struggles and political dynamics and insertion into capitalist markets were highlighted as central in structuring how marginalized groups (peasant, indigenous, urban poor, rural workers) organize and are able (or not) to build alliances and launch multiple forms of resistance. Diane’s and Rohit’s presentations revealed how complex and diversified such dynamics were, showing the extensive range of actors (ranging from established political parties, church groups, NGOs, to paramilitaries, Zapatistas sympathisers, solidarity-tourist activists, etc.) while Rohit talked about fractured web of resistance along localities, territories, livelihoods, and citizenships. For their part, Cristian and Bradley both stressed the importance of going back into history (19th century coffee estates in Nicaragua and peasant ‘farming the forest’ of Chile) in order to apprehend current events and struggles. History allows for a richer and nuanced understanding of how land and space were thought and talked about, exploited, controlled and fought for
On agency: While there was agreement from all panelists on the role of agency, its conceptualisation varied. Some argued for a more class-based analysis (peasantry, proletariat, capitalists), looking back at the “classics”, Marx, EP Thompson, Laclau, etc., others suggested other analytical categories and lenses, indigenous, women, urban poor, ecological activists, political ecology, global and local elite politics, etc. However, there seems to be a consensus that a narrowly defined structural analysis would not do justice to the range of forms of resistance deployed in multiple and rapidly changing contexts as global capitalist processes unfolded such as the massive build up of special exports processing zone in and around Mumbai or the growing number of large (some foreign-funded) tree plantations in Chile.
On contingency and convergence: All papers presented a “moment” in a longer process of social change, marked by territorial and power reconfiguration. In many ways, panelists were prudent in highlighting the contingent nature of claims that could be made as their case studies focussed in specific period of history. In none of the case, the outcomes were yet clear, in Nicaragua peasants and cooperatives have been able to secure some land, in Chiapas, new “corridors” of land grabbing and tourism (political and sexual) were creating new and unexpected alliances, around Mumbai, the SEZs were being opposed while being seen as sources of employment, and forest plantations in Chile were promoted by some a ecological and sustainable. Such evolving and rapidly changing contexts make “multiple futures” both possible and uncertain. Unsurprisingly, the research call seems to be for imaginative moments and intersubjective understandings of identity, regulations – legal frameworks, micro-macro analysis, etc. as well as a keen attention to possible convergence, ecological and peasant movements, peri-urban dwellers and export-processing zone workers, small landholders and cooperative members, etc. All of the above taking place in a context where violence (its use or the possibility of its use), asymmetry of information, land dispossession and privatization (enclosures), and local-transnational connections define the contingencies of resistance.
Obviously, there was much food for thought in the panel that launched very well the series on “resistance” and as a disclaimer, such brief synthesis cannot do justice the richness of the papers presented and the long question and answers conversations that went on, long after the two-hour allocated time…
Panel 5: The Politics of Land Deals: Regional Perspectives
The five papers in this panel explored the variety of mechanisms of dispossession, differential levels and forms of resistance, the different labour regimes and ‘business’ models promoted, and the implications for relations between citizens, local authorities and central states.
Michael Levien, considering the ‘politics of dispossession’ in India’s special economic zones, demonstrated how resistance to ‘accumulation by dispossession’ takes different forms, by definition in dispersed sites, there are barriers to building cross-site movements, and also counter-tactics by companies and the state, which drive divisions between ‘bargainers’ and ‘barricaders’. Ben Wisner showed how, in Tanzania, climate change discourses embedded in the government’s ‘Agriculture First’ (Kilimo Kwanza) campaign depicted commercial maize production by a modernizing peasantry and in agribusiness estates as the answer to food and climate insecurity. Alberto Alonso-Fradejas, observing multiple mechanisms of dispossession (ranging from enticement to outright coercion) in northern Guatemala, argued that sugar and oil palm plantations have been established on the back of a failed market-assisted land reform combined with structural adjustment, and that resistance has invoked identity-based discourses. Ben Cousins called into question the optimism about ‘inclusive business models’, and getting the institutional arrangements right, as the answer to land grabs, pointing to problematic experiences with ‘commercially viable’ joint ventures between agribusinesses and the rural poor in South Africa’s land reform, where tensions between social reproduction (paying out to members) and capital accumulation (reinvesting in production) have emerged. Julianne Hazlewood studied the politics of climate change mitigation or ‘CO2loniality’ in the Esmeraldas region of Ecuador, where REDD and oil palm initiatives facilitated massive appropriation of indigenous and ‘place-based’ peoples’ territory by the state.
Discussion of the papers centred on three debates. First, what’s in it for the state? Several cases noted the transition from developmentalism to neoliberalism, the state’s need to facilitate private sector accumulation, to support national elites, and to extend territorial control, casting this as being in the public interest. While the demand of social movements is for decentralised governance, there were no examples of local authorities being able to stave off the power of (investors backed by) the central state. Second, what shapes struggles? This was inconclusive. We noted that forms of dispossession was one factor, and also that ‘bargaining’ (for better terms or compensation) versus ‘barricading’ (physical resistance and sabotage) may be a tactical rather than fundamental divide. Third, how do we engage with the ‘inclusive business model’ debate? There was some scepticism on this, and the possibility of creating economic linkages between large-scale commercialised agriculture and local markets; land deals change how money circulates, and the enthusiasm about inclusive business models needs to be tempered in view of power asymmetries.
A theme emerging from some cases was that grabs for one purpose, notably for biofuels or for REDD, seem to be a precursor to other grabs. Further ideas emerging as important themes were questions of place-based identities and indigeneity, and the politics of custom becoming more volatile as traditional authorities become implicated in contestations over territory and resources.
Panel 6: Labor Regimes and ‘Business Models’: Outgrowers as the ‘Win-win’?
This panel included three presentations on three different countries, crops and problematics: gender relations and oil palm in Uganda; outgrowers’ enthusiasm in embracing rubber-tree promotion in Cambodia; and the evolution in social reproduction, and differentiation among small-scale sugar outgrowers in South Africa. All papers presented a nuanced picture of incorporation of small farmers into agribusiness-led and state-led commodity chains with emphasis on differentiated impact across well-defined sub-groups. The audience probed the speakers about: the reliability of responses in the case of Cambodia and the extent to which farmers’ enthusiasm reflected lack of choice or underlying tenure insecurity; the extent to which the Ugandan experience in Kalangala could be seen as ‘success’ or not; and the wider implications of the decline of South African small-scale outgrowers for similar situations in other African countries. The speakers re-emphasised the contingent nature of ‘success’ or ‘failure’ in highly differentiated contexts, which also require a careful historical reading of the path towards currently observed outcomes.
Panel 7: Governance II: The Importance of Local Politics
This was the second of the conference’s five panels on governance and politics issues. Since the five ‘resistance’ panels and various other panels focus largely on political processes, we could say that LDPI Land Grab II has a very substantial focus on politics. The panel was well attended with about 40 participants. Interesting papers were presented by Amanda Hammar, Lauren Honig, Festus Boamah and Dianto Bachriadi.
Focusing on white Zimbabwean farmers’ migration to Mozambique and their efforts to establish medium-size farms there, Amanda asked why Frelimo has refused to support medium-scale commercial farming, when this ‘missing middle‘ has a potential role to play in sustainable, redistributive development and poverty reduction. The case studies by Lauren Honig (on Zambia) and Festus Boamah (on Ghana) both pointed to the ambiguous and paradoxical role played by chiefs in the facilitation of transfers of customary land to the state (Zambia’s ‘farm blocks’) or Corporations (by land leases in Ghana). Dianto described the speculative and rent-seeking activities of local politicians and elites in the decentralized context of Indonesia, and the shifting goals of local resistance, in land expropriation for oil exploration in East Java.
In a lively discussion, Sam Moyo questioned neo-patrimonial explanations of Frelimo’s policies, noting that the white Zimbabwean settler project was politically risky for other reasons. Pauline Peters suggested that Frelimo, like some other African governments, do not like to see the emergence of ‘independent accumulators’. On the Zambian and Ghanaian cases, Jesse Ribot observed that African chiefs have become brokers in processes of access to/control of nature, and that donors recognizing this role have actually strengthened chiefly powers. It was observed that those who still hold to ideas that ‘everything indigenous is good’, and ‘everything decentralized is good’ need to re-think these positions, and that people and communities in customary-tenure and decentralized contexts often need protection from, and greater control over, their own elites. Finally Pauline Peters underlined the importance of case studies of local political processes, such as those presented in this panel, which can show in detail how national and international political and economic processes intersect with local structures and processes.
Panel 8: Resistance 1: Collective Action In and Over Time
Esther Mwangi presented two cases of resistance to land grabbing, one of which was successful (in Uganda) and one unsuccessful (in Tanzania). In both cases the conservation value of the land at stake was a key issue. Resistance in the Ugandan case was proactive and co-ordinated, but in Tanzania it was reactive and much less well co-ordinated. Cliff Welch compared resistance to land grabbing in Latin America in the Cold War era, when it was often led by farm worker unions and seen as an anti-imperialist intervention, and in the contemporary era of globalization, when resistance is led by peasant movements. Both change and a degree of continuity are in evidence across these two periods, as for example, in the invocation of utopian alternatives by resistance movements in both periods. Tapiwa Nyasula assessed forms of resistance to localized forms of land grabbing by customary chiefs in Ghana. Here ‘communities’ are differentiated by area of origin, gender and age, and resistance is deeply marked by such differences. Jeanne Koopman and Iba Mar Faye described the gender-differentiated character of resistance of land grabbing in Senegal; grabbing is undertaken by men in local level, by traditional leaders and other actors at a broader scale, and by foreign interests. Women are particularly active in the latter, but it is too risky for them to openly mobilize and resist grabbing at the local level or against traditional leaders. Key issues that emerged in discussion included the importance of forging alliances, the socially differentiated nature of resistance, the variety of forms and scale of action, and the key influence of national political contexts and conjunctures.
Panel 10: Understanding the Grabbers II: Comparative Perspective
This panel featured four excellent papers that examined the land grabbing experience across a diverse set of countries. The desire to improve self-sufficiency in food / energy among the grabbers is a singularly important theme that runs across all four papers, while the rich and diverse institutional developments that transpired among agribusiness, governments, local actors, and ground level activists are what set each specific study apart.
In “Land Grabbing, Agribusiness and the Peasantry in Brazil and Mozambique”, Bernardo Fernandes, and Elizabeth Clements describe the multiplex relationship between land grabbing and agribusiness expansion in Brazil and Mozambique. The study highlights the intriguing role of Brazil both as a country affected by land grabbing, and also a country promoting these same practices in Mozambique. The impacts of such practices particularly on the local peasantry are emphasized. One question from the floor calls the subject of this paper the “biggest case of land grab in the world”, and suggests the importance of information sharing between researchers and local actors.
In “How different are the UK and China? Land grabbing countries in comparative perspective”, Ariane Goetz argues that many studies on land grabbing have been guided by a number of stereotypical assumptions about the political economy, the nature of market capitalism, and international timelines. This practice ignores important country- and time-specific institutional details. Ariane takes on the cases of the United Kingdom and China in order to illustrate how the nuanced perspectives of the investor country can better explained.
In “Global land deals — the case of South African farmers investing in Africa”, Mathieu Boche illustrates in fascinating details a typology of 7 investment models that capture the mode of South African investment in the rest of Africa. Whereas specifics differ, the study shows that many of these investment models are in fact failing. The consequence of these failures is shown to adversely impact the local population, encouraging vertical integration of the agricultural production process, for example.
In “Where is Japan in the global land grab debate?”, Derek Hall brings to the fore the hitherto under-appreciated case of Japan – an ex-colonial power for whom food security and energy self-sufficiency are stated development goals — and asks why the country has not been featured prominently as a major player in the land grabbing experience. The study examines a number of possible hypotheses, and concludes with the observation that simply accounting for direct land investments can overlook equally important but alternative routes through which a country can gain access to land abroad.
Panel 13: Green Grabs: Discourses and Mechanisms
This interesting panel built on the ‘green grabbing’ theme initiated at the 2011 Global Land Grabbing conference and subsequent JPS special issue (Fairhead et al 2012). The debate is proceeding apace in some interesting directions, especially given growing practical and discursive imperatives linked to the ‘green economy’ in the run-up to, at and beyond the Rio+20 conference in June. Kathleen McAfee’s paper on ‘selling nature through green grabbing: discourses and resistances’ focused specifically on this moment, offering fascinating reflections on the way green economy discourses and concepts were evoked in the Rio event and documents, linking constructions of resource scarcity to business opportunities and profits – but also how such discursive rationales were challenged by civil society and certain governments. Her opening presentation set the scene for a range of extremely interesting case studies, on issues and places ranging from solar power in Morocco (Karen Rignall) and carbon CDM projects in Latin America (Hannah Witman) to sustainable palm oil in Ecuador (Adrienne Johnson) and soy production in Paraguay (Jennifer Tucker).
All the papers explored both discursive and material processes, and despite their diversity, some common themes emerged, picked up in a very lively discussion. First, although in all these cases ‘grabs’ were to some extent of ‘raw’ resources (food, fuel, economic profits) with continuities with past forms of appropriation, ‘green’ discourses were critical: in creating new kinds of value, and in justifying and legitimising resource grabs. Developers in all cases were, as Catherine Corson put it, ‘grabbing green’ in the new material-discursive world opened up by green economy thinking. Second, papers and discussion explored the ways in which texts and procedures ostensibly geared to participation, consultation, guidelines, safeguards, responsibility etc – whether in CDM project protocols, Rio civil society participation, or roundtables on soy or palm oil – actually ended up disabling real engagement. The stamp of green legitimacy, enacted through particular phrases, works along with the particular forms of orchestration of participation at play in these cases to depoliticise resistance. An interesting stream of discussion explored the methodological challenges of ‘opening the upstream black boxes’ of stakeholder fora and roundtables where such depoliticisation happens. Third, though, all presentations did, at least to some extent, address the question of alternatives. Beyond ‘reformist’ approaches (e.g. seeking to make benefit sharing work, improving CDM mechanisms etc), they addressed the prospect of putting into play discourses and practices that reject the green economy, using different concepts and frameworks: whether food sovereignty, ecological debt, rights to nature, green development rights, diverse and multi-functional landscapes, eco-social embeddedness, plenitude and distribution, or others. Some were optimistic about the prospects for these, pointing to small examples at the margins which might acquire further support and power; others more cynical. But all agreed on the importance of the search for alternatives and live resistance in an era where ‘green’ stakes are high and growing.
Panel 15: Conflict I: Conflict and Post-Conflict Grabs
Brief Summary: Can people return to their land after fleeing civil war? Is land reconciliation possible with key actors dead, displaced, or returning without title “proof” of residence or ownership? All 4 cases presented show how present or former warfare profoundly disturbed tenure. In Sri Lanka, the issue is land restitution in an environment of immense distrust and post-sunami recovery. In Northern Uganda (‘Acholi’), in the wake of war, the seems to have a master-plan in clearing people. The colonial government made the zone a nature reserve. In twentieth century the military used the land to grow grain and is today encouraging the development of a sugar plant and production system plus putative employment. Was war (or other excuses such as tse-tse fly and small pox alertts) used to create flight? In Laos the government has intermittently made large land concessions to Vietnamese and other investors. Local approval and resistance subject to local memories of past war behaviors (veteran experiences from 1975). In Colombia there are para-military and military interventions in efforts to secure the land rights by ethnic minorities that undermine collective title.
Key Contributions: Huge displacement legitimated by civil war (creation of “High Security Zones” and “Development Anger” in Sri Lanka)—eminent domain in name of development-improvement. Secondary occupation phenomenon (opportunistic civil-civilian grabs). Multiple owners of single parcels—no mechanism to resolve this. Most want to get back what was lost in war through custom (e.g., plowshare system = one plow shared by small number of families). Northern Uganda a test case for communal ownership; given the option, local residents prefer it to private title. Political memory of past conflict conditions (Vietnam War allegiances) affect current land policies—who gets what during land concessions. Memories often unspoken and not known to outside researchers studying land grabs. Land grabs and resistance to them varies significantly by land use, e.g., land for urban renewal versus land for oil palm versus land for drug money laundering and “local development.”
Debates: Are customary title lands “good” even if non-indigenous (i.e., set up by the government); may be set up for future failure. Fee simple title more secure? New land grabs are conditioned by old land grabs in an area (“a history of dispossession”), but how to methodologically “separate out” the impact of new land grabs from their violent histories?
Unresolved issues: Ethnic dimensions of land grabs (targeted discrimination). Not all commons are created equal—some a defense against grabs (Colombia, Uganda, Mali) others not (Ethiopia). Is import substitution based on outside land investment wise development strategy? Is there land grab resistance in places where para-militaries and extreme violence are involved (e.g., drug trafficking zones)? Are violent land grabs “clearance” strategies prior to resource booms—ways to quiet unruly frontiers? What does restitution really mean, given military role and “needs” and linkage to state? What does post-conflict period and does it really exist? Is it a period in which land surveys are performed but land markets don’t function and outside investors can insert themselves using new cadasters and maps? How to classify NGOs run by para-militaries. Is political capital (“I’m a vet and fought for you”) a form of resistance? War vets in Uganda are “over and above” others who didn’t participate and untouchable in land grabs.
Uncovering Resource Grabs: Water
Due to the fluid nature of water, water grabbing is often invisible. But it has profound effects across time and space that are difficult to understand and capture. Water and land are highly linked, yet water remains hidden in the land grab debate. Land grabbing scholars / activists are often not sure how to grapple with water and may need some conceptual and methodological tools to ensure that water doesn’t remain invisible from their lens. In addition to understanding links between downstream and upstream, green and blue as well as surface and groundwater issues, watery folk also need to be vigilant to the impacts of climate change, pollution and waste which all ultimately compound the local and macro impacts of the grab. What recourse to justice do local people affected by water grabbing have? There are many dynamic protest movements which have varied degrees of success. The internationally recognised human right to water largely focuses on domestic water and may not suffice in local struggles. With powerful global players now rallying around the ‘new securities’ agenda and the nexus between water, food, energy and climate change which ultimately will legitimise even more corporate control over resources, new alliances are required between engaged scholars / activists working on both land and water grabbing to develop conceptual and activist tools to tackle new dispossessions arising through future grabbing processes.
Panel 17: Governance IV: Understanding the Role of the National State
The interrogations in these five papers interwove and complemented each other well, making for an engaging discussion. With the nation state as a conceptual framework guiding the presentations, Fred Nelson emphasized that land grabs are emerging out of negotiations occurring at the local and the national level and suggested that this is perhaps more important than political economic forces at the international level. Furthermore, Gaynor Paradza elaborated the need for a more nuanced framework for understanding the ‘state’ and its multiplicity of actors, and the role of subjects as well as issues of sovereignty and authority. In this spirit, Colin Filer provided a window into internal governance processes in Papua New Guinea, describing how local institutions have become vehicles for land grabs in the country. Carol Hunsberger explored whether interrogating the interactions between state and capital might be more interesting and insightful than researching the role of state or capital alone in facilitating land grabs. Along these lines, Megan MacInnes observed a correlation between corruption and weak land tenure was observed, and audience discussion suggested this could be seen as an informal state-capital alliance with elite capture and a move away from democratic governance.
Panel 18: Resistance IV: Resistance & Citizenship
The panel was based on several cases of peasant and indigenous resistance against land grabbing in different parts of the world. The speakers analyzed agrarian policy and the context in which rural communities face treats, dispossession and repression. They connected this situation with the current expansion of large agricultural projects, including mono-cropping for agrofuels and climate mitigation schemes. The debate included the role of governments and legislation, as well as corporations and financial institutions. The speakers analyzed the discourse of these institutions to justify contemporary land grabbing, including the promise of “development” and “investments” in local communities. In order to justify land grabbing and accumulation by dispossession, one common practice is to create the myth of “idle”, “degraded” or “empty” land. At the same time, the presentations explained the historical, political and strategic specificities that led to the possibility of these communities to defend their land. These strategies included building coalitions and counter-power at the grassroots level, as well as accountability, decision-making spaces and legal protection. In terms of their advocacy and mobilizing work, the cases showed the importance to combine national, regional and international strategies.
Panel 21: Land grabs and livelihoods: debating impacts
This panel included 3 diverse papers, each approaching the question of ‘impact’ in different ways.
First, Lakshmi Balachandran and Elizabeth Herb presented their work in Liberia where they examined the impact of a new oil palm plantation through a comparative survey approach. They contrasted with/without project cases through a combination of a questionnaire survey and focus group interviews. Their focus was on different measures and indices of food security. According to these measures, they found that food insecurity was higher in the sites associated with the project, according to statistical tests.
The discussion focused on the challenges of measuring food security and the biases certain metrics may introduce. As all land investment projects evolve over time, it is always difficult to make any concrete assessment at a single time point. In this instance the project had not got off the ground to any significant extent, and employment had not yet been created, thus presumably affecting the results. The complexity of livelihood dynamics was also discussed, with panel participants pointing out the variety of other measures that could have been used. Impacts may also extend to environmental, social and other factors operating across scales, and household level studies may not get to grips with such complexities.
Chris Huggins offered a different approach through his work on Rwanda. Here the interventions by government, heavily supported by government and donors, have resulted in significant increases in agricultural output at an aggregate level. Interventions have included area-focused crop requirements, focusing on six export oriented crop types, input subsidy and support, as well as land registration, and a facilitation of land consolidation. This has been implemented through top-down coercive measures, supported by administrative procedures such as ‘performance contracts’ for households. While aggregate success – in terms of output, yield levels and economic returns – has demonstrated ‘impact’, there are many more questions raised.
A more differentiated approach suggests that such impacts are not uniformly distributed. The interventions are resulting in some winning, while others are losing out. Processes of structural change in the agrarian economy, through land consolidation for example, are resulting in negative impacts for some. While the government regards deagrarianisation as the ultimate objective of economic transformation, youth, women and poorer households may not be able to take up alternative income earning activities in a proposed urban-based ‘knowledge economy’. Thus ‘impact’ needs to be understood in structural terms, looking in a differentiated manner at different groups of people in the wider agrarian economy.
Finally Dana Graef offered another way into understanding impact through a more qualitative approach which focused on ‘pathways’ and ‘transitions’ in systems of production and livelihood. Her paper focused on transitions to agroecological and organic approaches to agriculture in
Costa Rica and Cuba. Here, due to a variety of contextual factors, rooted in history, culture and economic patterns of development, different pathways evolved. A case study approach allowed an exploration of impact from a very located perspective, looking at how individual producers’ lives and livelihoods changed. A temporal perspective allowed a sense of transition and change which a single time point assessment would not.
In the debate about ‘land grabbing’, impact is an important watchword. Everyone wants to know what the impact is. But the term raises important methodological questions: impact for whom, over what scale, in what timeframe, and in relation to what system? These 3 papers in different ways offered very different approaches. None are perfect answers to a complex question, but taken together they suggest an approach to understanding impact which is more plural and diverse than standard impact evaluation approaches if wider structural and system changes are to be understood.
Panel 23: Governance IV: Governance at multiple levels
A set of excellent and very diverse presentations highlighted the multiplicity of the sites of regulation (from national law to international human rights law through to global certification schemes and lender performance standards) and of the prevailing approaches to regulating ‘land grabbing’ (rights- and market-based approaches). It brought up the tensions and complementarities between the multiple approaches, and the challenges that most sites of regulation face in applying and enforcing their rules. The overriding message is that there is no shortage of governance instruments, yet the governance framework remains very weak. a key challenge is how to create linkages between strategic sites of regulation in ways that increase leverage for change.
Panel 26: Governance V: Land Administration and Tenure Reforms
Julian Quan was not able to attend the conference, thus there were only three presentations. Among those three, the general theme was that the inscription of land into Western notions of property has facilitated land grabbing. In Cambodia, the land titling project is justified as protecting vulnerable populations from dispossession, yet most titling takes place in areas where there is very little interest in concessions. (This results from perverse incentives to create as many titles as possible –> focus upon more densely populated areas). Yet the very existence of the titling project helps to justify the expropriation of land that is not titled. (If land use is legitimate, why don’t land users have titles?) In Guatemala, meanwhile, land titling has legitimated previous grabs by military and local elites. Also, the creation of individual titles have made individual land users susceptible to pressures from narcos, cattle ranchers, and other powerful actors. Had land been held in common, chances are that the indigenous population would have been able to collectively resist dispossession. This raised questions about the World Bank’s true intentions and whether the World Bank is manipulating governments (as in Guatemala) or the governments manipulating the World Bank (as in Cambodia).
Panel 29: Underlying Resource Grabs: Mining and Infrastructure
Summary and Key Contributions: Grabs of subsurface resources in the contemporary period constituted the underlying theme linking three fascinating and well-delivered papers by Kroger, Cote, and Bedi. The panelists converted a relatively small audience into an advantage via fertile exchanges in the Q&A and significant time for discussion of themes that cut across all contributions. Markus Kroger’s comparative analysis of Brazilian and Indian case studies suggested that the use of multiple movement strategies increased the likelihood of success in resisting, slowing, or stopping resource grabs altogether. Muriel Cote’s paper provided a substantial interrogation of the problems of definition and enforcement of legislated “artisanal” small-scale mining rights vis-a-vis large-scale concession of open-pit mining. Heather Plumridge Bedi’s paper examined the potentialities and limits of intervention on the part of United Nations Special Rapporteurs in a mining-oriented land grab in Bangladesh and concluded with cautious optimism in the capacity of this relatively new critique of resource appropriation.
Debates: Some of the questions elicited by the three presentations included:
- What are we trying to do when we study resistance? Is it prescriptive? Can it be quantified or modeled?
- Who has the authority to assess property use?
- Does the advocacy of food security as a “human right” risk slippage into protection of trans-national capital investments (i.e., corporate security)?
- What are the limitations to the concept of voluntary compliance? Has the phenomenon of Corporate Social Responsibility been reduced to a ritualized performance?
Unresolved Issues: Several members of the panel and the audience expressed concerns regarding the value of neoliberalism as a theoretical tool for analyzing resource grabs. The question of whether resistance to resource grabs can effectively be quantified also came up for discussion, as did the relative utility of rights-based discourse to effective forms of resistance on the ground. Perhaps the largest question unresolved was that of historical lessons seemingly unlearned – why do the patterns and processes of colonialism repeat themselves with such frequency? Will the phenomenon of land- and resource-grabbing represent an enduring human challenge that can only be mitigated, or are there real prospects for transformative change?