Land Grabbing and the Commodification of Agricultural Land in Africa

Monday, 15 December 2014: 4:40 PM
Paolo D'Odorico, Univ Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, United States and Maria Cristina Rulli, Politecnico di Milano, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Milano, 20133, Italy
The increasing global demand for farmland products is placing unprecedented pressure on the global agricultural system. The increasing demand can be met through either the intensification or the expansion of agricultural production at the expenses of other ecosystems. The ongoing escalation of large scale land acquisitions in the developing world may contribute to both of these two processes. Investments in agriculture have become a priority for a number of governments and corporations that are trying to expand their agricultural production while securing good profits. It is unclear however to what extent these investments are driving the intensification or the expansion of agriculture. In the last decade large scale land acquisitions by external investors have increased at unprecedented rates. This global land rush was likely enhanced by recent food crises, when prices skyrocketed in response to crop failure, new bioenergy policies, and the increasing demand for agricultural products by a growing and increasingly affluent human population. Corporations recognized the potential for high return investments in agricultural land, while governments started to enhance their food security by purchasing large tracts of land in foreign countries. It has been estimated that, to date, about 35.6 million ha of cropland – more than twice the agricultural land of Germany – have been acquired by foreign investors worldwide. As an effect of these land deals the local communities lose legal access to the land and its products. Here we investigate the effect of large scale land acquisition on agricultural intensification or expansion in African countries. We discuss the extent to which these investments in agriculture may increase crop production and stress how this phenomenon can greatly affect the local communities, their food security, economic stability and the long term resilience of their livelihoods, regardless of whether the transfer of property rights is the result of an informed decision and the land was paid at market value.