What is Land Grabbing?

Land grabbing has been a common theme seen within the global south, with international players repeatedly exerting their influence throughout history. But what is land grabbing? How has this practice evolved to become what we see today?

Is land grabbing a historical institution in itself? Photo: Richard Allaway, Flickr

The global food crisis and spike in food prices in 2007/2008 saw the term ‘land grabbing’ brought into the spotlight as countries such as Saudi Arabia and South Korea began to acquire vast amounts of land in global south. It was stated that this was to grow food for their own populations, however it has since become clear that land grabbing is more than this. This rhetoric remained in the media and, according to some, diverted attention away from the truth of the situation.

Land grabbing has been described by many as control grabbing. That is to say, it can be understood as the capturing of power to control land and other associated resources like water, minerals, or forests, in order to control the benefits of its use. In this understanding of land grabbing, the power relations and political processes behind the physical grabbing of land are acknowledged. Despite claims that through land acquisition wealthy countries can support the development and economic transformation of poorer nations, through the introduction of large scale farming for example, it is undeniably a means to gain profit from the land.

Land grabbing is not a new phenomenon, and the aforementioned political processes can be traced back centuries to pre-colonial territory wars, European explorers exploiting and damaging native populations, and colonial powers extracting profit. The land grabbing seen today can certainly be linked to the institutions that were established throughout the long history of the process. For example, government or tribal/village leader ownership of common land proved successful in many areas for subsistence level farming, however this historical institution of land use has been exploited throughout history. This can also clearly be seen as being exploited today by foreign powers and businesses to gain legal ownership of the land themselves. The exclusion of the users of the land and undertaking legal discussions with only the government or leader are common methods employed throughout this process.

In more recent history, specific political ideologies shaping international policies are regularly pointed to as allowing the practise of land grabbing seen today. Policies such as Structural Adjustment Programmes, privatisation of public services, investment deregulation, and trade liberalisation are highlighted for allowing foreign powers and businesses to exert influence over national policies in the developing world. This was coupled with exclamations of vast areas of disused/idle land, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa but also in other areas of the global south, that was unable to compete with local food production. This claim however has been strongly refuted by NGOs and there is evidence that many local farmers have had areas of good and important farmland taken away from them. Thus, it is obvious that the historical legacy of land grabbing has paved the way for many of the patterns seen today, however it is evolving once again due to new influences and global political dynamics and challenges.

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Categories: Land Grabbing

About Rowena Guthrie

Rowena is a Bachelor's student of Development Studies at Lund University. After sparking an interest in international development and politics when living in Istanbul throughout the 2013 riots, she has pursued work in innovative urban development in Gothenburg, Sweden and is hoping to further her knowledge in this field on her upcoming exchange to Seoul, South Korea.

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