‘Land Grabbing:’ Taking Stock of Two Years of Debate

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The romanticization of farmland is part of the debate. Image: David M. Wright/flickr

“Whether viewed as ‘land grabs’ or as agricultural investment for development, large-scale land deals by investors in developing countries are generating considerable attention. However, investors, policymakers, officials, and other key stakeholders have paid little attention to a dimension of these deals essential to truly understanding their impact: gender.” (The Gender Implications of Large-scale Land Deals, IFPRI, April 2011).

Two years after the publication of “‘Land Grabbing’ by Foreign Investors in Developing Countries,” the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) is again setting the agenda. The idea that we should consider gender issues when evaluating large-scale land deals shows how the ‘land grabbing’ debate has matured since it started in 2009, when rich investors from powerful countries were pitted against poor farmers in developing countries.

Of course, there are still those who condemn greedy land grabbers abusing their power to deprive poor Africans of their land, on the one side, and those who hail benevolent investors lending their money to develop backward agriculture in the ‘south’ on the other. But we can also observe many shades of gray in a debate which seems to have revived in spring 2011.

A Google Timeline search shows how the 'land grabbing' debate really started in 2009. After it cooled down a bit in 2010, it seems to have revived in 2011: not yet half into the year, the bar already shows about half of the results found for 2009.

Two years into the ‘land grabbing’ phenomenon, here are some resources on the issue.

I’ll start with this map enriched by IFPRI. Based on their 2009 paper, the map shows instances of land deals, from the perspective of both sellers (blue) and buyers (red). The map needs some updating but nevertheless provides a good illustration for the discussion.

View IFPRI Landgrabbing in a larger map

In 2009, the FAO co-published a major report which asked the relevant question, “Land grab or development opportunity?”. More recently, the World Bank published their major contribution to the issue, entitled “Rising Global Interest in Farmland“.

In addition to these two international organizations, there is the Oakland Institute, which has recently published outstanding case studies on land deals in Africa. Focusing on food security, the Institute runs a whole research project on land investment deals in Africa and we can expect more reports to be published.

The NGO GRAIN, a pioneer in the land grabbing debate, runs an excellent resources page on the topic. Farmland.org is another NGO website specializing on the issue.

Even more elaborate is the work of Oxfam, which also has a good collection of resources. Robin Palmer, a former Land Adviser with the charity, maintains several bibliographies on land grabbing: the Annotated Guide to the Bibliographies on Biofuels, Land Rights in Africa and Global Land Grabbing, the Select Bibliography of Reports on Biofuels, Land Rights in Africa & Global Land Grabbing and the Select Bibliography of Press Cuttings on Biofuels, Land Rights in Africa & Global Land Grabbing.

And with Robin Palmer, you really do have almost everything you need.

I’ll conclude by referring you to a big conference that took place in April 2011 at the University of Sussex, Brighton. The website gives you access to over 80 presentations and 90 conference papers on global land grabbing in the broadest sense.

I’m sure I’ve left out many good resources on the issue. If you know more, tell me; I want to know.

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