Political Dynamics of Land-grabbing in Southeast Asia: Understanding Europe's Role

18 January 2011
Political Dynamics of Land-grabbing in Southeast Asia: Understanding Europe's Ro

The European Union is a significant player in the widespread occurrence of land-grabbing in Southeast Asia; both through its corporate sector and public policies.


Land-grabbing is occurring at a significant extent and pace in Southeast Asia; some of the characteristics of this land grab differ from those in regions such as Africa. At a glance, Europe is not a high profile, major driver of land-grabbing in this region, but a closer examination reveals that it nonetheless is playing a significant role. This influence is both direct and indirect, through European corporate sector and public policies, as well as through multilateral agencies within which EU states are members. Looking at some of the cases of large-scale land acquisition in Southeast Asia, and the role played by the European Union, we put forward several observations and issues for discussion.

The assumption about the existence of reserve agricultural land (“idle”, “marginal” and “uninhabited”) in the global South that can solve the global food and energy crises is fundamentally flawed.

The official claim by the state over ‘non-private lands’ and its effort to seize these lands undermine and violate the rights of peoples living and working in these geographic spaces.

Land-grabbing leads to dispossession and/or to ‘adverse incorporation’ of people into the emerging enclaves of the global agrofood-feed-fuel complex.

Land-grabbing is currently being carried out by domestic and transnational companies, often with encouragement and support from central governments.

Most of the products produced – food, feed, fuel – are exported or are planned to be exported to other countries, within the circuit and logic of the global industrial agrofood-feed-fuel complex, with trade policies such as those by the EU having important implications.

Transnational companies and their domestic partners, landed elites and bureaucrats, are among those who corner much of the created wealth, with limited positive livelihood impact on farming communities.

Various land policies by bilateral and multilateral agencies, including those that involve European Union or EU member states have direct and indirect implications for the current land-grabbing in the region, ranging from an inability to carry out effectively existing progressive land policies to actually promoting pro-market land policies that help encourage or facilitate land-grabbing.


1. Introduction
1.1. Story 1. Cambodia
1.2. Story 2. Indonesia
1.3. Story 3. Philippines
1.4. Three stories, common messages
2. The current Global Land-grab and Southeast Asia
2.1. 'Land-grabbing' in Southeast Asia
2.2. Europe and Land-grabbing in Southeast Asia: Understanding links
3. Conclusions and recommendations
Annex 1
Annex 2

January 2011
In: Political Dynamics of Land-grabbing in Southeast Asia: Understanding Europe's Role
Kathy Cumming (eds.)
56 pages

About the authors

Jun Borras

Saturnino 'Jun' M Borras Jr. is a political activist and academic who has been deeply involved in rural social movements in the Philippines and internationally since the early 1980s. Borras was part of the core organising team that established the international peasant movement La Via Campesina and has written extensively on land issues and agrarian movements. Jun is also Adjunct Professor, COHD at China Agricultural University, Beijing; a Fellow for Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy in California and Coordinator for Initiatives in Critical Agrarian Studies (ICAS).

Jennifer Franco

Jennifer Franco is a researcher working on land and rural politics issues.  After receiving a PhD in politics in 1997 in the US, she began working with the Philippine solidarity group in the Netherlands, and with local peasant organizations, rural community organizing and human rights groups, and research outfits in the Philippines in two regions faced with extreme landlord resistance to redistributive agrarian reform. She began working with TNI in the mid-2000s, on several projects on various topics involving local peasant movement and rural reform activists, human rights activists, and activist researchers from various countries and regions. In 2010 she joined the College of Humanities and Development (COHD) at the China Agricultural University in Beijing as an adjunct faculty and travels there twice a year to give seminars and work with junior faculty and MA and PhD students. She has lived in the US, Philippines, Canada and the Netherlands.  

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