Land grabbing mobilizations in Africa and beyond

The notion of land grabbing has become a common term in the study of various agrarian transformations taking place in the Global South. However, it suffers from a great deal of definitional uncertainty and difficulties in clearly establishing the scope of its object. This project strives to open new avenues in the study of land grabbing controversies through a redefinition of this notion. Land grabbing is, first and foremost, a label used to qualify variegated sorts of land conflicts. As such, social research should be oriented towards a twofold aim. On the one hand, the analysis of the creation, circulation and reappropriation of this label. On the other, the study of the ways in which the use of this label by actors engaged in social conflicts around land is determined by their experience of a transnationalization of agriculture. I have applied this conceptual framework to the case of Côte d’Ivoire.

My first objective is to trace the emergence and diffusion of a land grabbing label or ‘framing’. This discourse is determined by long term processes, such as the structuring of a transnational peasant movement, but also by the conjuncture of the 2008 food crisis, which was intrinsically linked to the global financial crisis. The diffusion of the framing was spurred by NGOs and transnational activist networks mobilization, as well as the creation of new arenas of global mobilization, first and foremost the FAO Committee on Food Security (CFS).

I then turn to the processes of reappropriation of the land grabbing framing, analyzing the key mechanisms in the translation of local conflicts into the land grabbing discourse. I assess the success or failure at creating alliances of different actors, and the capacity of activists to use a set of transnational resources in a local setting.

However, if land grabbing can fruitfully be analyzed as a ‘label’, such mobilizations should not be reduced to symbolic endeavours, but must be studied from the standpoint of the local experiences of domination and exclusion. I then approach specific cases of land grabbing mobilization, analyzing them that as changes of scale in the forms of land control. The arrival of an agribusiness company can be interpreted as a transformation in the network of actors that take decisions about legitimate land use: about who has access to land and who does not, and under what conditions. The creation of transnational chains of interdependence cannot be reduced to the control of local decisions by outsider corporate actors. In reality, agribusiness corporations’ power heavily rely on their capacity to obtain the support of local brokers, such as village chiefs and businessmen. The creation of new relations of brokerage has the potential of transforming the power struggles at the village level, and interacts with other forms of domination, based on ethnicity, seniority, and gender.

Today, my primary case for this project is Côte d’Ivoire. I have also explored these questions in the case of Colombia. The premises of this project were financed by a small grant by the Land Deal Politics Initiative (LDPI) network.

Academic output of this project

  • Grajales, J. 2018. L’agribusiness au village. La notion d’accaparement de terres à l’épreuve du cas ivoirien. Politique Africaine, n°151, p. 155-177.
  • Grajales, J. 2015. Land grabbing, legal contention and institutional change in Colombia. Journal of Peasant Studies, vol. 42, no 3-4, p. 541‑560.

Papers in progress:

  • (With Mathilde Allain), The politics of the land rush: scales of land contention and the reconfiguration of political authority. In progress.
  • (With William Renan), Operational Inefficiency and Water Governance in Colombia: an Agribusiness Enclave Case Study. In progress
  • Land grabbing and the transnationalisation of collective action: insights from Côte d’Ivoire. In progress.

Check the publications page for a complete list.