Contested Global Landscapes

A Multidisciplinary Initiative of the Cornell Institute for the Social Sciences

Across Southeast Asia, a dramatic reconfiguring of land rights, livelihoods and economies is underway, with profound and disturbing implications for the future. This was the main take-away message from a conference on Land grabbing Southeast Asia: agr...

This week 200 delegates assemble in Chiang Mai in Thailand for a major conference on land grabbing, conflict and agrarian-environment transformations in southeast Asia. It is co-organised by the Land Deal Politics Initiative (LDPI), a research network co-founded by the Future Agricultures Consortium. The conference marks the next step in this work, aiming to locate debates about land investment and agricultural commercialisation in regional contexts. Southeast Asia has been a focus of the global land rush in the period since the financial-food-energy crisis of 2008, but as elsewhere the dynamics of transformation have evolved in ways that are more complex than the original ‘land grab’ rhetoric.

Due to changes in commodity prices, challenges of infrastructure and investment and shifts in public and policy opinion, large-scale grabs have been less frequent than the ‘multiple pin pricks’ of changes in land use and ownership that have occurred as the new hubs of capital – in the southeast Asia case dominated by China – assert their influence in agrarian systems.

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The past decade has witnessed global outcry over a new era of ‘land grabbing’ and, in response, there have been numerous efforts to halt and reverse the corporate takeover of community land.

Initially presented as investors grabbing land from rural people, it has since become clear that most such ‘grabs’ involve national governments selling or leasing out land to private companies, often by dispossessing rural communities of their rights.

Though such moves may flout international law and human rights, they are mostly legal under national law. It's the result of a longstanding failure to recognize that customary and informal land rights constitute real property rights. This failure effectively renders invisible the tenure of millions of people across the world, and privileges only the minority of those in developing countries who hold private title to property.

The conundrum then is how to address the deficiencies of national statutes that render land grabs – which are illegitimate and flout human rights – nominally legal under national law. On a recent trip to Lake Victoria, I heard fishing communities talk about the effects of land acquisitions on their lives and livelihoods. In this post, I'll explore the issues and share some of their reflections.

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Across the world, access to land and related resources are probably our most hotly contested political issues: who does the land belong to, who has the right to access the land, who gets to make decisions about land use, and who is barred from the land are tied to people’s history, culture and ability to pursue decent livelihoods.

In an effort to reduce contestation, most countries have developed complex systems of laws to govern land, some with more success than others. But for many African countries these are still open questions — with different systems of land governance, chosen and imposed, clashing, as countries try to keep space for traditional, customary land practices, grapple with the land legacies of the colonial era, while trying to make land systems that are legible to and compatible with globalised capital.

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The inaugural Conference on Land Policy in Africa got off to an energetic start on Tuesday 11 November 2014 at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, with a panel of eminent speakers issuing a clarion call for action to secure the land rights of rural residents across the continent. Dr Abebe Haile Mariam, Director of Rural Economy and Agriculture in the African Union Commission, chaired this first plenary session and opening ceremony.

Land and agriculture are central to our future

Her Excellency Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, AU Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, officially opened the conference, declaring: ‘We are proud that Africa is the only continent that has defined its own agenda for land policy.’

‘This conference is timely and allows us to track progress in the implementation of the AU declaration on land,’ she said.

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par Rebecca Pointer (PLAAS) et Marion Girard Cisneros (AWEPA)

Les défenseurs de l’agriculture industrielle affirment que les investissements fonciers à grande échelle améliorent la sécurité alimentaire. Or les activistes et chercheurs assurent que ces investissements ont des conséquences néfastes pour la sécurité alimentaire, spécialement de ceux qui ont été expulsés de leurs terres pour faire place à l’agriculture industrielle.

Lundi, lors d’un séminaire au Parlement panafricain, des parlementaires, des chercheurs et des représentants de la société civile et du secteur agroalimentaire se sont réunis pour discuter de quelle sorte tirer profit des investissements fonciers à grande échelle en Afrique.

Selon Constance Mogale, activiste du Land Access Movement d’Afrique du Sud (LAMOSA, un mouvement de la société civile pour l’accès à la terre), la conséquence de forcer des femmes à se déplacer de leurs terres pour faire place aux investisseurs c’est qu’elles ne sont plus en mesure de produire les aliments qui assuraient leur moyen de vie. En plus, le déplacement les ayant laissées dans le dénuement le plus complet, elles peinent à acheter la nourriture produite par l’entreprise commerciale qui a remplacé leur activité. Ceci souligne que, pour les pauvres et les vulnérables, la sécurité alimentaire n’est pas une question de disponibilité d’aliments, mais plutôt d’accès aux aliments. Accroitre la production à travers l’agriculture industrielle n’aide donc pas ceux qui n’ont pas l’argent pour acheter de la nourriture.

by Rebecca Pointer, Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) While proponents of corporate farms argue that large scale land investment will enhance food security, activists and academics alike are highlighting how detrimental such land...

Land accumulation by investors or investment companies for large-scale farming to the disadvantage of small-scale farmers is part of the framework within which gender equitable agricultural commercialisation is being discussed  in the Agricultural Investment, Gender and Land in Africa conference. Days 1 and 2 of the workshop detailed the diversity of such investments – referred to as ‘Business Models’. Case study evidence demonstrated the often disadvantaged terms on which women, in comparison with men, are incorporated into these schemes, regardless of the investment model. The debate around the disadvantages faced by women in labour markets has already been explored in the feminist literature, along with the understanding that their persistence reflects how deeply gender bias is embedded across a range of institutions. The transformation of rural production systems, their increasing commodification and the individualisation of productive resources, are likely to be experienced very differently by women and men.

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One of today’s parallel sessions of the Agricultural Investment, gender and Land conference looked at the business models through which investors engage farmers .

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by Sue Mbaya, Land Policy Initiative

The controversy surrounding large scale land based investments (LSLBI) is multifaceted. The parameters of this controversy are well known and have received wide coverage. They include  the extent of land occupied by LSLBI, the extent of stakeholder consultation – or lack thereof,  the quality of land governance institutions and their capability to oversee transactions of the magnitude characteristic of LSLBI.

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