Debating the Global Land Grab

29 March 2011

Coinciding with the Global Land Grab conference held at the University of Sussex, three leading commentators debate the politics of land deals; contrasting a World Bank "code of conduct" perspective with more critical analysis looking at human rights and labour issues.

A new report has been released this week to coincide with the forthcoming international conference on the global land grab to be held at Institute of Development Studies (IDS), University of Sussex. The Journal of Peasant Studies (JPS) Forum on global land grabbing, with three leading commentators, debates the sometimes hidden impacts of land deals and sets the scene for wider debates at the upcoming conference.

Five articles from the forum are available to download free of charge from the publisher's website:

Towards a better understanding of global land grabbing: an editorial introduction Saturnino M. Borras Jr.; Ruth Hall; Ian Scoones; Ben White; Wendy Wolford

Challenges posed by the new wave of farmland investment Klaus Deininger

How not to think of land-grabbing: three critiques of large-scale investments in farmland Olivier De Schutter

Centering labor in the land grab debate Tania Murray Li

Klaus Deininger, a senior economist at the World Bank examines the risks associated with single owners of large land holdings and the institutional reforms needed to make land deals successful. Olivier de Schutter, the UN Rapporteur for the Right to Food and Professor of Law and Human Rights at the Catholic University of Louvain, promotes small family farms and human rights in the context of contemporary debates on land grabbing. And Tania Murray Li, Canada Research Chair and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, examines how land deals can lead to dispossession and “rural exclusion”.

Land deal risks

For land deals to be successful, Klaus Deininger promotes government-sponsored institutional support laid out in the 2010 "Principles of Responsible Agricultural Investment". He also notes how a lack of reliable information about land deal opportunities, actual transfers, and the impact of large-scale investments can lead to negative impacts. He examines risk and how potentially large land plots change hands, may be concentrated in just a few countries, and how there appears to be particular land deal interest in countries with weak governance. But he also notes that when risks are present, heightened investor interest may also provide opportunities.

However, Olivier de Schutter is critical of the World Bank-led position about "managing risks while harnessing opportunities’ and in his work as UN Special Rapporteur, he has put forward a proposal for ‘Minimum Human Rights Principles" to the UN Human Rights Council.

Limits to regulation

Tania Murray Li highlights how land deal dispossession leaves some without shelter, food or the means of (re)production.

Tania Murray Li critiques mainstream thinking on land deals and brings labour consequences to the centre of her analysis. She highlights how land deal dispossession leaves some without shelter, food or the means of (re)production. Like Olivier de Schutter, she is not convinced by arguments in favour of a ‘code of conduct’ to make land investments ‘pro-poor’. Rather, she argues that, where safeguards have been effectively put in place for the rural poor, they have been the result of political organisation and social mobilisation: “Without such struggles, and such settlements, even the most assiduous regulatory regime has no purchase”, she argues.

Building on these contributions, the "Global Land Grab" conference discussions will focus on livelihoods, governance, political economy, environment and the politics of land deals. By assessing evidence from cases from across the world, the conference aims to elaborate the emerging contours of the new global land grab, asking what are the key drivers, who are the winners and losers, and what can policymakers, activists and citizens do about it?

All three contributors to the JPS Forum will be contributing to the forthcoming conference, and their inputs – alongside 120 others from across the world - can be followed on the conference:

See also - the TNI sponsored side event to the FAO summit in Rome, November 2010 - where leading academics discussed "the Global Land Grab" >>


Global land grab conference organizers:

Saturnino Borras Jr. of the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in the Hague and Fellow of the Transnational Institute (TNI) and Food First.
Ruth Hall, a senior researcher at the Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies in South Africa and convenes the land theme under the Future Agricultures Consortium.
Ian Scoones, professional fellow at IDS Sussex.
Ben White, professor at ISS.
Wendy Wolford, professor at Cornell University.
They are founding members of the Land Deals Politics Initiative (LDPI) which is organising the Global Land Grab conference.