Large-Scale Land Acquisitions and Social Conflict in Africa
As foreign governments and corporations lease and purchase large tracts of arable land across the globe, in Africa, such large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) or ‘land grabs’ have allegedly provided the grievance behind protests, riots, coups, and other conflict from Mali to Madagascar.
As foreign governments and corporations lease and purchase large tracts of arable land across the globe, in Africa, such large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) or ‘land grabs’ have allegedly provided the grievance behind protests, riots, coups, and other conflict from Mali to Madagascar. These land acquisitions not only displace smallholder farmers and pastoralists, often from allegedly marginal lands, but the land is subsequently used for food or biofuel export crops that are sent to wealthier countries, or forested for carbon mitigation. This dynamic deprives the local market of food production, often in countries that already experience high levels of food insecurity, and forces peasant farmers and pastoralists into the wage economy, where they have less control over their food sources and their subsistence is subject to the fluctuations of the global corporate food regime. LSLA target countries may also tend already to have poor land tenure security, and are frequently characterized by weak, corrupt, or authoritarian governments. It is unclear, however, whether land grabbing itself is a mechanism that has led to a significant increase in subnational social conflict, or whether land grabs have simply provided a focal point of organization for underlying unrest related to other factors. Using data on LSLAs from Land Matrix and data on conflict from the Social Conflict in Africa Dataset, this paper finds no significant correlation between LSLAs and the incidence of social conflict. The reliability of data on LSLAs leaves much to be desired, however, and so future research should focus on improving this data and also on untangling the social and political effects of LSLA deals through rigorous qualitative research.
Kai Thaler is a doctoral student, Department of Government, Harvard University, and affiliated researcher, Portuguese Institute of International Relations and Security (IPRIS). Kai Thaler’s research interests include violence and conflict, revolution, civil wars, regime transitions, and the political economy of development in agrarian societies. He holds a B.A. in political science from Yale University and an M.Soc.Sc. in sociology from the University of Cape Town.
Food Sovereignty: a critical dialogue, 14 - 15 September, New Haven.