ThesisPDF Available

The ‘Global Land Rush’, Local Land Rights and Power Relations: European Forestry Investments in Tanzania

The ‘Global Land Rush’,
Local Land Rights and Power Relations:
European Forestry Investments in Tanzania
Martina Locher
Zürich, 2015
The ‘Global Land Rush’,
Local Land Rights and Power Relations:
European Forestry Investments in Tanzania
Erlangung der naturwissenschaftlichen Doktorwürde
(Dr. sc. nat.)
vorgelegt der
Mathematisch-naturwissenschaftlichen Fakultät
Universität Zürich
Martina Locher
Güttingen TG
Prof. Dr. Ulrike Müller-Böker (Vorsitz, Leitung der Dissertation)
Prof. Dr. Norman Backhaus
Prof. Dr. Theo Rauch
Zürich, 2015
Summary ..................................................................................................................................... ix!
Zusammenfassung ..................................................................................................................... xii!
Acknowledgments .................................................................................................................... xvi!
1!Introduction ............................................................................................................................ 4!
1.1!The ‘global land rush’ ................................................................................................... 5!
1.1.1!Definitions, drivers, scale and data quality: what do we mean? ............................. 5!
1.1.2!Actors in the global land rush ................................................................................. 8!
1.1.3!Explanatory approaches from Marxist perspectives ............................................... 9!
1.1.4!Agrarian development in the Global South .......................................................... 10!
1.1.5!Policies, institutions and processes in target countries of the land rush ............... 12!
1.1.6!Known and expected outcomes ............................................................................ 13!
1.1.7!Forestry as a specific sector in the global land rush ............................................. 16!
1.1.8!Summing up: Knowledge and knowledge gaps on the global land rush .............. 18!
1.2!Research objectives and research questions ................................................................ 19!
1.3!Research design ........................................................................................................... 21!
1.3.1!Framework of the research project: the NCCR North-South ............................... 21!
1.3.2!Methodological approach and overall research process ....................................... 22!
1.3.3!Field visits, stages of field research and resulting publications ............................ 22!
2!Conceptual approaches and perspectives ............................................................................. 24!
2.1!Personal perspective and assumptions ........................................................................ 24!
2.2!Critical livelihoods perspective ................................................................................... 24!
2.3!Analytical concept of property and legal pluralism perspective ................................. 25!
2.4!Theory of access .......................................................................................................... 27!
2.5!A bargaining power model .......................................................................................... 28!
3!Methodology ......................................................................................................................... 29!
3.1!Literature review: fast-accruing empirical evidence ................................................... 29!
3.2!Selection of case studies .............................................................................................. 29!
3.3!Data generation and access to the field ....................................................................... 30!
3.3.1!Data generation through qualitative methods ....................................................... 30!
3.3.2!Accessing interview partners ................................................................................ 34!
3.3.3!Researcher positionality ........................................................................................ 35!
3.3.4!Working with research assistants .......................................................................... 36!
3.4!Processing and analysis of data ................................................................................... 37!
4!Land laws and land deals in Tanzania .................................................................................. 38!
4.1!Land laws in Tanzania ................................................................................................ 38!
4.1.1!Land tenure regime and legislation ....................................................................... 38!
4.1.2!Legal regulations regarding land transfer to a foreign investor ............................ 40!
4.2!Investment in agricultural land in Tanzania ................................................................ 42!
4.2.1!Agrarian development and investment policies .................................................... 42!
4.2.2!Recent foreign large-scale land deals in Tanzania ............................................... 42!
5!The case studies: sites and investment projects .................................................................... 44!
5.1!Case study A: The New Forests Company in Kilolo District ..................................... 44!
5.2!Case study B: Tanga Forests Ltd in Pangani District ................................................. 46!
6 !Synthesis of the research papers: aims and results ............................................................... 48!
6.1!Research Paper I .......................................................................................................... 48!
6.2!Research Paper II ........................................................................................................ 50!
6.3!Research Paper III ....................................................................................................... 51!
6.4!Research Paper IV ....................................................................................................... 53!
7!Final reflections, conclusion and recommendations ............................................................. 54!
7.1!Reflections on the conceptual and methodological approaches .................................. 54!
7.2!Summary of the findings regarding the research questions ........................................ 54!
7.3!Conclusion ................................................................................................................... 58!
7.4!Recommendations for policy and further research ..................................................... 58!
References .................................................................................................................................. 63!
Paper I: Investors are good, if they follow the rules”Power relations and local
perceptions in the case of two European forestry companies in Tanzania
Paper II: How come others are selling our land?” – Customary land rights and the
complex process of land acquisition by a UK-based forestry company in
Paper III: Land grabbing, investment principles and plural legal orders of land use
Paper IV: Challenges and methodological flaws in reporting the global land rush:
observations from Tanzania
Figure 1: Origin of transnational investments in sub-Saharan Africa ....................................... 8
Figure 2: Main purposes of concluded transnational land deals worldwide ........................... 17
Figure 3: Sign-board of forestry company in Tanzania .......................................................... 18
Figure 4: Field visits with stages of field research and administrative tasks .......................... 22
Figure 5: Outputs of participatory mapping ............................................................................ 33
Figure 6: Gravesite surrounded by tree seedlings ................................................................... 34
Figure 7: Number of companies investing in agriculture in Tanzania .................................... 43
Figure 8: Map of Tanzania showing the case study areas ....................................................... 44
Figure 9: Tree nursery in Kilolo District ................................................................................. 45
Figure 10: Plantation of pine tree seedlings in Kilolo District .................................................. 47
Figure 11: Teak plantation in Pangani District ......................................................................... 48
Figure 12: New village office provided by the investor in Pangani District ............................. 48
Table 1: Overview on research questions, approaches, methods and papers ........................ 21
Table 2: Stages of field research: aims and outputs ............................................................... 23
Box 1: Empirical data and other sources of information .................................................... 31
(2011)& &
In recent years, rural areas in the Global South have experienced increased demand for land by
investors. Private companies acquire farmland in order to make a profit from various
agricultural commodities including agrofuel and forestry products. Large-scale land deals and
related investments provoke numerous hopes and concerns regarding rural development and
local people. Yet established knowledge about the ‘global land rush’ also referred to as ‘land
grabbing’ with negative connotations – is still limited.
This thesis aims to contribute to a differentiated picture of the global land rush by asking four
main questions:
1. How do land acquisition processes take place?
2. What are the implications of land deals and related investments for local livelihoods?
3. How do local people perceive foreign land investments?
4. How are data regarding the global land rush (re)produced and reported?
The thesis addresses these questions through a case study analysis of two forestry investments
and through a detailed review of reports and data compilations related to the land deal situation
in Tanzania. Four Research Papers provide insights into different aspects of these questions.
They analyse the land deal processes and related power issues, the recognition and violation of
customary land rights, the implications of the investments and local people’s perceptions
(Papers I and II). They also discuss the relevance of recognising plural legal orders of land in
international guidelines on tenure and responsible investment (Paper III) and the challenges of
data collection as well as flawed research methods in representing the land deal situation in
Tanzania (Paper IV).
The study employed a unique combination of conceptual approaches: a critical livelihoods
perspective, a property concept and legal pluralism perspective, access theory and a bargaining
power model. This enabled me to (i) focus on local inhabitants’ agency and social
differentiation among them; (ii) comprehend property and access to land in its full complexity;
and (iii) analyse power relations from different angles. The papers are based on empirical data
collected in fieldwork between 2009 and 2013, and analysis of legal documents and reports
about and from investors. I conducted qualitative interviews with villagers, local, regional and
national government officials, and representatives of companies, civil society organisations
and the academia. Further primary data were generated through participatory observation as
well as group discussions and participatory mapping exercises with affected people.
The thesis (see Paper IV) illustrates that data collection regarding the land deal situation in
Tanzania is a challenge because of central government’s limited overview of land deals. But
also flawed research methods contribute to the problem. Several publications present their
data sources in aggregated or incomplete ways. Further, data are often derived from media and
investors’ websites, which in many cases proved unreliable. The flaws result in the
dissemination of inaccurate information, such as the reporting of land deals that have never
materialised. Overall, they lead to a blurred picture of the land deal situation in Tanzania, and
arguably elsewhere too.
The case studies focus on two European companies that have acquired both individual and
communal land (see Papers I-III). They illustrate that land deals in Tanzania involve lengthy
and complex procedures, which are influenced by a combination of ‘power strands’, namely:
Land law, which in Tanzania’s case is comparatively favourable in terms of respecting
customary land rights and requiring local people’s approval to land deals;
Unequal knowledge about land rights among local people and compared to investors;
(Access to) influential government authorities;
National development discourses, which in Tanzania and many other countries legitimise
and encourage land deals;
Local communities' potential resistance through the threat (or the actual carrying-out) of
destructive actions such as burning forestry plantations;
Unequal resources and alternatives to the deal: the financial resources mobilised by the
investors and local people’s lack of alternative livelihoods are crucial in bargaining
Government officials and politicians at local, district and regional levels play an important
intermediary role in the villagers’ decision-making, the identification and recognition of local
land rights, and the settlement of compensation. The way the authorities fulfil their roles
whether they support the local population or whether they pursue their own interests or
national development goalssubstantially influences the outcomes of the deals.
The study demonstrates that the recognition of customary rights is a delicate undertaking.
Local claims include overlapping and sometimes competing bundles of rights. Further, local
elites in Tanzania, these include elected representatives are not always aware of all the
flexible tenure arrangements in their constituency and can thus not fully back them towards
outsiders. Overall, it is virtually impossible to guarantee the full protection of existing land
rights. The examined international guidelines on tenure and responsible investment do not
address this complexity of plural land orders in a fully satisfactory manner.
Local inhabitants benefit and suffer in different ways from positive and negative implications
of the investments. The companies provided compensation; one in the form of infrastructure,
the other in cash. They offered labour options that were generally desired by local people, but
under rather disappointing conditions in terms of salary, working hours and job security. Yet
some of the poorer households welcomed them as an additional income source. Both land deals
resulted in many villagers losing land against their will. This happened particularly but not
only in areas where the resettlements under the government’s villagization policy in the mid
1970s had led to complex local tenure arrangements. In many cases, the compensation was
inadequate. In the worst cases, the food security of the affected households actually decreased.
It is not possible to weigh up the positive and negative implications, as they do not necessarily
affect the same people.
One must differentiate within local communities in terms of assets and social identity such as
financial resources, education, gender and livelihood strategy (i.e. farming and pastoralism).
These factors influence people’s participation in village decision-making, their bargaining
power vis-à-vis investors and how they experience implications. For example, households in
adverse economic conditions, be it due to a drought or for personal reasons, suffer most when
they lose or give away land and are left without a basis for their livelihoods. On the other hand,
villagers from poor households seem to make use of new labour opportunities more often than
members of better-off households.
The perception of the land deals varied among the villagers and changed over time. Many
local inhabitants deliberately agreed to the forestry investments and saw them as a unique
opportunity to improve their livelihood situation. The initial positive views were bound to the
following conditions: (i) a fair land deal process; (ii) the possibility to keep the own land and
land-based livelihood strategies; and (iii) opportunities to earn additional income. Depending
on their experiences with the investors, local people’s perceptions remained positive, or
became more critical or even strongly negative.
In a global comparison, the analysed cases feature relatively favourable conditions due to
Tanzania’s progressive land laws and because the forestry companies examined strive to have
good relations with local people as a means of protecting their plantations from fire.
Nevertheless, the land acquisition processes were conflict-ridden and their outcomes
ambivalent. It can be assumed that land deals under less favourable conditions have worse
consequences for local communities.
The study concludes that largely positive outcomes for local people can only be expected
when the following bundle of conditions in the target countries of land deals are met:
Land acquisitions need to be restricted to areas with ample land availability so that they
do not necessarily interfere with existing land-based livelihood strategies;
Any land rights including individual and common customary rights must be
acknowledged by the national government;
Decisions regarding land deals should be taken locally. This also requires functioning
local government structures;
There needs to be a political will and a commitment by officials at all levels of
government to implement the provisions of the law and support the local population in
their negotiations with investors. Further, strong civil society organisations should watch
the government and step in in favour of local populations if necessary;
All social groups of the local population need to be well informed about their land rights
and about the potential risks of a land deal; and
Governments must maintain a transparent and critical discourse about land deals.
This bundle of conditions is hardly ever met in the target countries. Hence the contemporary
global land rush poses severe risks to rural people’s livelihoods. The findings of the thesis
support voices campaigning for alternative pathways of agrarian development in the Global
South. At the same time, in the absence of any possibility of halting the global land rush for the
foreseeable future, there is a need for strict regulations on ongoing and forthcoming land deals.
The thesis provides a range of recommendations based on the aforementioned conditions and
beyond, and points to related research needs. One example is the participatory land use
planning at village level that has recently been made a requirement for agrofuel projects in
Tanzania. More research is needed to understand how this detailed local analysis and planning,
if implemented beforehand, may influence decision-making on land deals and whether it
should become a model for other contexts.
The thesis provides two forms of scientific contribution. First, it enriches empirical
knowledge about the global land rush in a nuanced manner by analysing cases of investments
in forestry a hitherto sparsely researched sector. It sheds light on the complexity of land deal
procedures, particularly in terms of customary land rights and power relations; it considers
social differentiation and gives local people a voice. Second, the study adds to the
methodological discussions about how to conduct research into the global land rush. It
provides some critical reflections about existing practices and proposes rigorous methods of
data presentation and reproduction. Finally, the thesis contributes to policy debates by offering
conclusive arguments against the global land rush and recommendations for how to restrict
ongoing land deals and thereby encourage more socially acceptable processes and positive
implications for rural people.
Seit einigen Jahren erfahren rurale Gebiete im Globalen Süden eine zunehmende Nachfrage
nach Land durch Investoren. Private Firmen erwerben Agrarland, um mit dem Anbau von
verschiedenen landwirtschaftlichen Erzeugnissen, inklusive Agrartreibstoffen und Forst-
produkten, Gewinne zu erzielen. Die grossflächigen Landdeals und die damit zusammen-
hängenden Investitionen rufen zahlreiche Hoffnungen und Befürchtungen bezüglich der länd-
lichen Entwicklung und der Lokalbevölkerung hervor. Allerdings gibt es bisher nur wenig
gesichertes Wissen über diesen „globalen Ansturm auf Land“ (global land rush), der mit
negativer Konnotation auch als „Landraub“ (land grabbing) bezeichnet wird.
Diese Dissertation hat zum Ziel, einen Beitrag zu einem differenzierten Bild des global land
rush zu leisten. Sie stellt dazu die folgenden Fragen:
1. Wie gestalten sich Landerwerbs-Prozesse?
2. Welches sind die Auswirkungen von Landerwerb und den diesbezüglichen Investitionen auf
den Lebensunterhalt der Lokalbevölkerung?
3. Wie nehmen lokale Bewohnerinnen und Bewohner ausländische Landinvestitionen wahr?
4. Wie werden Daten zum globalen Ansturm auf Land erzeugt und wiedergegeben?
Die Studie geht diesen Fragen durch Fallstudien zu zwei Forstwirtschafts-Investitionen und
durch eine Analyse von Berichten und Datenzusammenstellungen zur Landdeal-Situation in
Tansania nach. Vier wissenschaftliche Artikel beleuchten verschiedene Aspekte dazu: Sie
analysieren die Land-Transaktionsprozesse und diesbezügliche Machtfragen, die Anerkennung
und Verletzung von lokalem Gewohnheitsrecht, Auswirkungen der Investitionen und lokale
Sichtweisen auf dieselben (Artikel I und II). Zudem diskutieren sie die Relevanz der Aner-
kennung von pluralen Landrechtssystemen in internationalen Richtlinien zu Besitz und verant-
wortungsvollen Investitionen (Artikel III) und Herausforderungen bei der Datensammlung
sowie mangelhafte Forschungsmethoden bei der Darstellung der Landdeal-Situation in
Tansania (Artikel IV).
In der Studie wird eine einzigartige Kombination von konzeptionellen Ansätzen angewendet:
eine kritische Lebensunterhalts-Perspektive (critical livelihoods perspective), ein Eigentums-
konzept und die Perspektive des Rechtspluralismus (property concept und legal pluralism
perspective), die Zugangstheorie (access theory) und ein Model zu Verhandlungsmacht
(bargaining power model). Dies hat mir Folgendes ermöglicht: (i) Fokussierung auf die
Handlungsmöglichkeiten (agency) der lokalen Bevölkerung und differenzierte Betrachtung
derselben, (ii) ein gutes Verständnis von Besitz und Zugang zu Land in seiner gesamten
Komplexität, (iii) eine Analyse von Machtbeziehungen unter verschiedenen Blickwinkeln. Die
Artikel basieren auf empirischen Daten aus Feldforschung zwischen 2009 und 2013 und auf
der Analyse von Gesetzestexten sowie Berichten über und von Investoren. Ich habe qualitative
Interviews mit DorfbewohnerInnen, mit BeamtInnen von lokaler bis nationaler Ebene und mit
Vertretenden von Investoren, Zivilgesellschaftsorganisationen und aus der Forschung durch-
geführt. Weitere Primärdaten wurden durch teilnehmende Beobachtung und durch
Gruppendiskussionen und partizipatives Kartieren generiert.
Die Studie (siehe Artikel IV) zeigt auf, dass die Datenerhebung zur Landdeal-Situation in
Tansania dadurch erschwert wird, dass die nationale Regierung keinen Überblick über die
Landdeals hat. Aber auch mangelhafte Forschungsmethoden tragen zu den Schwierigkeiten
bei. Die Quellen der Daten werden in vielen Publikationen in aggregierter Form oder unvoll-
ständig wiedergegeben. Zudem stammen die Angaben oft von Medien oder Homepages der
Investoren. Diese Quellen haben sich in vielen Fällen als unzuverlässig erwiesen. Diese
Mängel führen zu einer Verbreitung von unzulänglichen Informationen, wie zum Beispiel der
Berichterstattung über Landtransaktionen, die nie stattgefunden haben. Insgesamt resultieren
sie in einem verzerrten Bild zur Landdeal-Situation in Tansania und wohl auch anderswo.
Die Fallstudien fokussieren auf zwei europäische Firmen, welche sowohl privates als auch
Gemeinschaftsland erworben haben (siehe Artikel I-III). Sie illustrieren, dass Landerwerb in
Tansania langwierige und komplizierte Prozesse mit sich bringt. Diese sind von einer
Kombination von Machtsträngen (power strands) beeinflusst:
Landrecht, welches im Fall von Tansania im Vergleich zu anderen afrikanischen
Ländern relativ vorteilhaft ist in Bezug auf die Anerkennung von Gewohnheitsrecht
und aufgrund der Auflage, dass die Lokalbevölkerung einer Landtransaktion zu-
stimmen muss
Ungleiches Wissen über Landrechte unter der Lokalbevölkerung und im Vergleich zu
den Investoren
Einflussreiche Regierungspersonen (bzw. Zugang zu ihnen)
Nationale Entwicklungsdiskurse, welche in Tansania und in vielen anderen Ländern
Landdeals legitimieren und fördern
Widerstand der Lokalbevölkerung durch Drohung (und Umsetzung) von zerstöreri-
schen Akten, wie zum Beispiel das Abbrennen von Forstplantagen
Ungleiche Ressourcen und Alternativen zum Deal: Die finanziellen Ressourcen der
Investoren und die fehlenden Alternativen seitens der Lokalbevölkerung sind zentral in
Regierungsbeamte und PolitikerInnen auf lokaler, Distrikt- und regionaler Ebene spielen eine
wichtige Rolle bei der Entscheidungsfindung der Dorfbevölkerung, bei der Identifizierung und
Anerkennung von lokalen Landrechten und bei der Einigung bezüglich Kompensation. Die
Art, wie die RegierungsvertreterInnen ihre Rollen wahrnehmen ob sie die Lokalbevölkerung
unterstützen oder ob sie eigene Interessen oder nationale Entwicklungsziele verfolgen
beeinflusst die Auswirkungen der Deals massgebend.
Die Studie zeigt, dass die Anerkennung von Gewohnheitsrechten ein heikles Unterfangen ist.
Lokale Ansprüche beinhalten überlappende und manchmal sich widersprechende Rechts-
bündel. Zudem sind lokale Eliten in Tansania unter anderem gewählte Dorfabgeordnete
nicht immer im Bild über alle flexiblen Besitzverhältnisse in ihrem Gebiet und können diese
deshalb nicht hinreichend gegen aussen vertreten. Insgesamt ist es nahezu unmöglich,
bestehende Landrechte vollumfänglich zu schützen. Die untersuchten internationalen Richt-
linien zu Besitz und verantwortungsvollen Investitionen befassen sich nur unzureichend mit
dieser Komplexität von pluralen Landrechtssystemen.
Die ansässige Bevölkerung erfährt positive und negative Auswirkungen der Investitionen auf
unterschiedliche Weise. Die Firmen haben Kompensationen in Form öffentlicher Infrastruktur
beziehungsweise in Bargeld bezahlt. Sie bieten Arbeitsmöglichkeiten, wie von vielen
Menschen erhofft, allerdings zu enttäuschenden Bedingungen was Lohn, Arbeitszeit und
Jobsicherheit betrifft. Dennoch begrüssen einige der ärmeren Haushalte diese Arbeitsmöglich-
keiten als zusätzliche Einkommensquelle. Beide Landdeals haben zu Fällen geführt, in denen
zahlreiche DorfbewohnerInnen Land gegen ihren Willen verloren haben. Dies geschah haupt-
sächlich aber nicht nur in Gebieten, in denen die Umsiedlungen während des nationalen
Dorfentwicklungsprogramms (villagization policy) Mitte der 1970er-Jahre zu komplizierten
Landbesitz-Verhältnissen geführt haben. In vielen Fällen wurde unzureichende Kompensation
bezahlt. In den gravierendsten Fällen hat sich die Ernährungssicherheit der betroffenen Haus-
halte verschlechtert. Die negativen und positiven Auswirkungen können nicht gegeneinander
abgewogen werden, da sie nicht unbedingt dieselben Personen betreffen.
Die lokalen Bewohnerinnen und Bewohner müssen differenziert betrachtet werden. Assets
und Aspekte von sozialer Identität wie finanzielle Ressourcen, Bildung, Geschlecht und
Lebensunterhaltstrategie (Landwirtschaft oder Pastoralismus) sind relevante Faktoren. Diese
beeinflussen die Teilnahme an Dorfentscheidungen, die Verhandlungsmacht gegenüber
Investoren und die Art, wie Auswirkungen erfahren werden. Zum Beispiel leiden Haushalte,
die sich wegen einer Dürre oder aus persönlichen Gründen in widrigen wirtschaftlichen Um-
ständen befinden, am meisten, wenn sie Land verlieren oder weggeben und ohne Grundlage für
ihren Lebensunterhalt verbleiben. Andererseits scheinen Mitglieder von armen Haushalten die
neuen Arbeitsmöglichkeiten mehr zu nutzen als Personen aus wohlhabenderen Familien.
Die Wahrnehmung der Landdeals variiert innerhalb der Bevölkerung und veränderte sich mit
der Zeit. Viele DorfbewohnerInnen haben den Forstinvestitionen bewusst zugestimmt und
sahen sie als einzigartige Chance, ihre Lebenssituation zu verbessern. Die anfänglich positive
Sichtweise war an folgende Bedingungen geknüpft: (i) ein fairer Land-Transaktionsprozess,
(ii) die Möglichkeit, das eigene Land und landbasierte Lebensunterhaltsstrategien beizube-
halten, und (iii) die Gelegenheit, zusätzliches Einkommen zu verdienen. Je nach ihren Erfah-
rungen mit den Investoren ist die Ansicht der Menschen positiv geblieben oder wurde
kritischer bis stark negativ.
Die untersuchten Fälle weisen verhältnismässig vorteilhafte Bedingungen auf dies aufgrund
Tansanias fortschrittlichem Landrecht und weil die untersuchten Forstunternehmen sich um
gute Beziehungen zur Lokalbevölkerung bemühen als Strategie, ihre Plantagen vor Feuer zu
schützen. Trotzdem waren die Land-Transaktionsprozesse stark von Konflikten geprägt und
die Auswirkungen ambivalent. Es kann angenommen werden, dass Landdeals unter weniger
günstigen Bedingungen schlimmere Konsequenzen für DorfbewohnerInnen haben.
Die Dissertation kommt zum Schluss, dass mehrheitlich positive Auswirkungen für die
Lokalbevölkerung nur dann erwartet werden können, wenn folgende Bedingungen in den
Zielländern von Land-Investitionen erfüllt sind:
Landerwerb muss auf Gebiete mit ausreichender Landverfügbarkeit limitiert werden,
so dass er nicht zwingend in existierende landbasierte Lebensunterhaltsstrategien
Alle Landrechte, inklusive private und gemeinschaftliche Gewohnheitsrechte, müssen
staatlich anerkannt sein.
Entscheidungen bezüglich Landtransaktionen sollten auf lokaler Ebene getroffen
werden. Dies bedingt auch eine funktionierende lokale Regierungsstruktur.
Es braucht politischen Willen und Engagement von Regierungsbeamten auf allen
Ebenen, die Gesetzesgrundlagen umzusetzen und die lokale Bevölkerung in ihren
Verhandlungen mit Investoren zu unterstützen. Zusätzlich müssen starke Zivilgesell-
schaftsorganisation die Regierung beobachten und wenn nötig für die Bevölkerung
Alle Bevölkerungsgruppen müssen gut über ihre Landrechte und über mögliche
Risiken von Landtransaktionen informiert sein.
Die Regierungen müssen transparente und kritische Diskurse über Landdeals führen.
Dieses Bündel an Bedingungen ist kaum je erfüllt in den Zielländern. Der aktuelle globale
Ansturm auf Land stellt folglich ein erhebliches Risiko für die Lebensgrundlagen der länd-
lichen Bevölkerung dar. Die Resultate dieser Arbeit unterstützen Stimmen, die sich für
alternative Wege der ländlichen Entwicklung in Ländern des Südens einsetzen. Gleichzeitig
da der global land rush in absehbarer Zukunft nicht aufgehalten werden kann sind strenge
Regeln für laufende und bevorstehende Landdeals nötig. Die Studie bietet eine Auswahl an
Empfehlungen, die auf den obengenannten Bedingungen basieren und drüber hinausgehen.
Zudem weist sie auf entsprechenden Forschungsbedarf hin. Ein Beispiel ist die partizipative
Landnutzungsplanung auf Dorfebene, die in Tansania kürzlich zur Bedingung für Investitionen
in Agrartreibstoffprojekte gemacht wurde. Es braucht mehr Forschung um zu eruieren, wie
diese detaillierte lokale Analyse und Planung die Entscheidungsfindung beeinflusst, wenn sie
vorgängig zu einem Landerwerb durchgeführt wird, und ob diese Vorgabe ein Vorbild für
andere Gebiete werden könnte.
Die vorliegende Studie trägt auf zwei Arten zu wissenschaftlichem Wissen bei. Erstens
ergänzt sie empirisches Wissen über den globalen Ansturm auf Land in einer differenzierten
Weise, und zwar durch die Analyse von Forstinvestitionen einem bisher wenig untersuchten
Sektor. Sie gibt Aufschluss über die Komplexität von Land-Transaktionsprozessen, vor allem
in Bezug auf Gewohnheitsrechte und Machtbeziehungen, sie berücksichtigt soziale Differen-
zierung und gibt den betroffenen Bewohnern und Bewohnerinnen eine Stimme. Zweitens trägt
die Studie zur methodologischen Erörterung darüber bei, wie der global land rush erforscht
werden soll. Sie bietet eine kritische Betrachtung bestehender Forschungspraktiken und schlägt
Methoden zur präzisen Darstellung und Weiterverwendung von Daten vor. Schlussendlich
trägt die Arbeit zu politischen Debatten bei, indem sie schlüssige Argumente gegen den
global land rush und gleichzeitig Empfehlungen vorbringt, wie bestehende Landdeals einge-
schränkt werden sollen, damit eher sozialverträgliche Prozesse und günstigere Auswirkungen
für ländliche Bewohnerinnen und Bewohner erreicht werden können.
I wish to express my gratitude to all the people and organisations that have supported me
throughout this journey and that have contributed to making this PhD thesis possible.
I am very grateful to my supervisor Prof. Dr. Ulrike Müller-Böker for the confidence she
showed in me, for her sound advice and incessant support whenever I needed it, and for letting
me go my own way. I wish to thank her for being my co-author, for reading my texts
thoroughly and offering invaluable comments. I also appreciated the opportunity to work as a
teaching associate in her research unit.
I express my warm thanks to the other members of my “Promotionskomitee”, Prof. Dr.
Norman Backhaus and Prof. Dr. Theo Rauch, and to Prof. Dr. Zebedayo S. K. Mvena. Each of
them provided critical and constructive feedback on my writing as well as intellectual and
moral support throughout the various stages of this thesis.
My sincere thanks go to my estimated colleagues and co-authors Dr. Bishnu Upreti and Dr.
Bernd Steimann for getting me on board and for their inspiring teamwork. Further, I wish to
extend many thanks to my co-author Emmanuel Sulle for a productive and pleasant
collaboration and for his friendship.
I thank the Zurich Graduate School in Geography for funding trips to international conferences
and for offering interesting and informative training courses. The research for this thesis was
carried out as part of the Individual Project Livelihood futures The quest for inclusion of
marginalised groupsof the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR)
NorthSouth: Research Partnerships for Mitigating Syndromes of Global Change, co-funded
by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) and the Swiss Agency for Development and
Cooperation (SDC). I owe thanks to the NCCR North-South for funding my field research and
providing the opportunity to exchange and socialise with a global network of researchers. I
thank Prof. Dr. Babar Shahbaz and Prof. Dr. Sagar Raj Sharma for having me in their research
team, and all the team members, as well as Myra Posluschny and Bernd, for many stimulating
exchanges. Outside the NCCR North-South network, I extend my thanks to Bernard Baha,
Chambi Chachage, Kerstin Nolte and Kate Neville for fruitful discussions.
My work in Tanzania would have been far less successful and convenient without the broad
formal and informal support I received through the NCCR North-South network. I would like
to thank Dr. Gimbage Mbeyale, Prof. Mvena, Prof. Dr. Seif Madoffe, Dr. Boniface Kiteme,
Prof. Dr. James Mgana, Benedikt Notter, Tuli Msuya, Dotto Stanley and many others for
making me feel comfortable in Tanzania and for supporting me in academic and practical
issues. Particularly warm thanks go to Constanze Pfeiffer and Stefan Dongus for repeatedly
welcoming me to their home and facilitating my stay in Tanzania in many different ways. I
thank Ethel Grabher for motivating online chats and amazing days in Mbulu and surroundings
(I will never forget the elephants around our tented camp and the wonderfully scary story of
the encounter with the lioness).
I am indebted to Christine Molela and Provident Dimoso for helping me to obtain research
clearance and a residence permit in time. I convey my thanks to the Sokoine University of
Agriculture in Morogoro and to the Government of Tanzania for accepting me as an associate
researcher and granting me a research permit.
This thesis would not have been possible without the kind collaboration of numerous interview
partners. Local people in Kilolo and Pangani district, government officials and representatives
of civil society organisations, academics and investors generously shared their valuable time
and gave me insights into their lives, their work, their knowledge and their views. I owe them
my deep gratitude. I also would like to express my sincere thanks to my research assistants, the
late Bonny Kisoma, and Gloria Lyimo, Hamis Matwewe and Emmanuel Mahululu. Ahsante
I warmly thank my colleagues and friends at the Human Geography Unit and beyond, Sara
Landolt, Silva Lieberherr, Craig Hatcher, Miriam Wenner, Eric Alms, Alice Kern, Julia
Grünenfelder, Susan Thieme, Urs Geiser, Roger Keller, Barbara Bitzi, Mathew Mabele,
Ephraim Pörtner, Rony Emmenegger and all the others for their intellectual and emotional
A special mention goes to Roger for his careful reading and very useful feedback on the frame
of this thesis, and to Mathew, Barbara and Silva for helpful reviews of parts of it. I would like
to acknowledge Eric, Craig and Simon Pare for their kind and invaluable English corrections.
Without their support, my work would sound only half as nice.
I want to thank all the members of our informal jogging group including Sara, Silva, Karin
Schwiter and Heidi Kaspar for inspiring discussions and for contributing to mens sana in
corpore sane.
I am grateful to my grandmother and my late grandfather, my in-laws and all my dear friends
for sharing my ups and downs and for their interest and encouragement. I owe a great deal to
my parents Walter und Verena Locher, who have supported me in wonderful ways throughout
my life and made my studies possible. In particular I wish to thank my parents and my sister
Karin Fröhlich and her family for caring for our little son Robin whenever needed.
Lastly, my heart-felt thanks go to my husband Michael Timpe, who motivated me to start the
PhD project and who backed me unceasingly and affectionately in many different ways
through all these years.
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The terms ‘global land rush’ or ‘land grabbing’ refer to a multi-facetted phenomenon that takes
place mainly in rural areas in the Global South. In short, it can be defined as an increase in
large-scale land acquisition by (foreign) investors in recent years. The land deals covered by
these terms are conducted by differing private and public actors for a variety of purposes,
including the production of food crops, agrofuel or forestry products, or for speculative
reasons. The land acquisitions be they in the form of long-term leases, concessions or
outright purchase and related land investment have led to controversial debates. The potential
advantages for rural areas include new income opportunities, improved infrastructure and
technologies. Concerns are related to violations of local people’s (often customary) land rights,
the loss of access to and degradation of natural resources, and ultimately decreased food
security in the respective areas.
This PhD thesis aims to contribute to a differentiated view of large-scale land deals in rural
areas. Through a case study analysis, it sheds light on detailed land acquisition procedures and
decision-making processes, and on the implications of transnational land deals for local people
and their livelihoods. The conceptual and methodological approaches applied focus on
acknowledging different social groups among local communities, on their perceptions of the
foreign land deals and on power relations among different stakeholders. The empirical data for
this PhD study were1 collected and generated in Tanzania. Tanzania which has an apparent
abundance of land, and attractive investment policies is one of the typical target countries for
foreign investors searching for land. Tanzania has comparatively progressive land laws in
terms of respecting customary land rights. This makes it an interesting country in which to
analyse the acknowledgment of local land tenure during land deal processes. The case studies
analyse two European companies investing in tree plantations. Forestry is a sparsely researched
sector in the context of the recent land rush, compared to investment for food and agrofuels. It
is a sector with presumably growing global relevance that deserves greater attention.
Part I Frame and Synopsis of this thesis is structured as follows. First, I give an overview of
the recent land rush debate, including discussions of its characteristics, actors, related
discourses, processes and outcomes. Further, I provide insights into forestry as a specific
investment sector. The introduction also presents the objectives and research questions of this
thesis and concludes with the research design. In the two subsequent sections I illustrate the
conceptual and methodological approaches that were applied in this study. In the fourth
section, on Tanzania, relevant information regarding land laws, investment policies and the
situation of foreign land deals is provided. The next section describes the case study sites and
investment projects analysed in this research. The results of the PhD thesis as published in four
research papers are summarised in section six. Finally, section seven provides some reflections
on the research procedure, findings and conclusions regarding the main research questions, and
recommendations for further research and policy.
Part II Research Papers contains the four research papers that form the core of this thesis:
Paper I: Locher M., Müller-Böker U. 2014: Investors are good, if they follow the rules
Power relations and local perceptions in the case of two European forestry
companies in Tanzania. Geographica Helvetica, 69(4), 249-258.
Paper II: Locher M. submitted: How come others are selling our land?” – Customary land
rights and the complex process of land acquisition by a UK-based forestry
company in Tanzania. Submitted to: Journal of Eastern African Studies.
Paper III: Locher M., Steimann, B., Bishnu, R. U. 2012: Land grabbing, investment
principles and plural legal orders of land use. Journal of Legal Pluralism, 65, 31-
Paper IV: Locher M., Sulle E. 2014: Challenges and methodological flaws in reporting the
global land rush: observations from Tanzania. Journal of Peasant Studies, 41(4),
The first paper focuses on the land deal processes and outcomes in the two case studies. It
sheds light on power relations between investors and villagers and on the views of local
people. The second paper zooms in on the recognition of contested customary land rights and
statutory law in a complex land tenure situation, where the investor’s land acquisition has
generated considerable conflict. In the third paper, the relevance of customary land laws and
plural legal orders of land in international guidelines for land tenure and responsible
investment is discussed. Finally, in the fourth paper, an analysis of methodological challenges
and shortcomings in researching the global land rush is provided and their consequences for
the picture of contemporary land deals in Tanzania are displayed.
The most widely used term in the debate about contemporary land acquisitions has been ‘land
grabbing’. For my research, however, I have increasingly preferred to use other terms. I argue
that the term ‘land grabbing’ is not a particularly suitable analytical term because of its implicit
connotation of illegality and force (D. Hall 2013, p. 1600; Taylor and Bending 2009; Zoomers
and Kaag 2014, p. 201). Smalley and Corbera (2012, p. 1040) point out that ‘land grabbing’
excludes the “possibility of a just transfer of land”. I reason that this possibility should at least
not be ruled out from the outset of a study. While I recognise the political power of the term
‘land grabbing’ and the importance of activists’ and other critics’ work in this regard, I prefer
less confusing and emotionally loaded expressions for academic purposes. Hence, I have
mainly used ‘land rush’ and terms such as ‘land deals’ or ‘land acquisitions’ in my research. In
my opinion, ‘land rush’ is less misleading than ‘land grab’, but portrays some of the scale and
urgency of the phenomenon.2
The phenomenon under study actually represents not one land rush, but consists of “multiple
converging processes” (Cotula 2013, p. 173) that can also be termed “commercial pressures on
land”, as the International Land Coalition (ILC 2014) calls it (Peluso and Lund 2011, p. 669;
Zoomers and Kaag 2014, p. 207). Scholarly literature shows great variance in what is
considered ‘land grabbing’ or land rush. This variety is demonstrated along the characteristics
listed below that are deemed relevant by most definitions in some form, but in differing ways3.
Scale of land deals: Most definitions require that land acquisitions be large in order to
count, often setting a lower limit of, for example, 1,000 hectares (e.g. Cotula et al. 2009)
or 200 hectares (Land Matrix 2015; Locher and Sulle 2013; Messerli et al. 2014).
Foreign vs. domestic origin of investors: Some research (e.g. Daniel and Mittal 2009;
Arduino et al. 2012; a set of FAO studies quoted by Borras, Kay, et al. 2012, p. 4034) and
much of the media coverage focus exclusively on land acquisitions by foreign investors.
More recent definitions implicitly or explicitly include domestic investments (e.g. White
et al. 2012). Though domestic deals are usually smaller in scale and there is (even) less
systematic knowledge about them, anecdotal evidence suggests that, taken together, they
are of considerable relevance potentially similar or greater in impact than transnational
land deals (Deininger and Byerlee 2011, p. xiv; Cotula 2012).
Target countries: Research that employs the terms ‘land grab’ or ‘land rush’ focuses
almost exclusively on land deals in the Global South, thus implicitly making this part of
the definition. Some definitions also explicitly mention target countries being ‘poor’ or
‘developing countries’ (e.g. Daniel and Mittal 2009). Only a few publications (e.g. Englert
and Gärber 2014) see land investments in Western countries as part of the same
Purpose of land deals: Agricultural production, resource extraction and speculation are
named as specific purposes of ‘land grabbing’. There is disagreement over whether
acquisitions for urban development and industry should be considered as part of the same
phenomenon. A particular category of land deals is summarised under the term ‘green
grabs’. Green grabs are defined as “the appropriation of land and resources for
environmental ends” (Fairhead et al. 2012, p. 237) and include land deals for biodiversity
conservation, carbon sequestration and ecotourism, for example (Fairhead et al. 2012;
Corson et al. 2013).
Temporal criteria: Some specify ‘current’ or ‘contemporary’ land grabbing, while others
make no reference to time, or explicitly state that the current phenomenon is part of a
long-term historical process (e.g. Alden Wily 2012; Cotula 2013, p. 173; P. E. Peters
2013a, 2013b).
Besides these characteristics used to define the land rush, land deals also vary regarding other
criteria such as the duration of investment, the business models (estates, outgrowers), the
resources accessed (land, water, minerals, forests) and the degree of interference in existing
uses (R. Hall 2011b, p. 203). There are both export-oriented ventures and ones that sell
agrarian products on domestic markets (Borras and Franco 2010; Schoneveld 2014). One new
analytical term coined in the context of the land rush is ‘flex crop’ (Borras, Franco, et al. 2012,
p. 846). Flex crops are plants with multiple uses that can be sold as food, feed, fuel or an
industrial raw material, depending on market developments. Examples are soy, sugarcane and
oil palm. Cultivation of flex crops is reported to be expanding (ibid., p. 847, 851).
Foreign land acquisitions in developing countries have been taking place for a long time,
particularly for the establishment of large plantations in colonial and post-colonial times
(GRAIN 2008; Kugelman 2009; Songwe and Deininger 2009; Taylor and Bending 2009).
However, there is a common understanding that the number and size of international land
investments in countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America has considerably increased over the
last decade. The major reason is a growing demand for agricultural products and a continuing
surge in the prices of agricultural commodities and land in a situation where natural resources
are becoming more and more scarce (Deininger and Byerlee 2011, p. 7; Rauch 2014, p. 227).
More specifically, a combination of global crises is generally cited as the immediate drivers of
the recent global land rush (Borras and Franco 2012, p. 36; White et al. 2012). These crises
involve food, energy, climate change and finance. In this context, Ruth Hall (2011a, p. 1) has
coined the term “triple-F crisis: food, fuels and finance”. Food prices peaked partly as a
result of the agrofuel boom, but also due to food speculations in 2007-08 and again in 2010,
after three decades of relatively stable or declining agricultural commodities prices (De
Schutter 2011, p. 251; Woodhouse 2012, p. 778). The food price inflation has drawn investor
attention to agrarian land. Yet, for Southern Africa, R. Hall (2011, p. 202) found that large land
deals for food production seem to be rare; agrofuel plantations are more common in this
region. Worldwide production of agrofuels has grown rapidly since the beginning of the
twenty-first century, driven by the increasing attention of policy makers to climate change,
energy supply concerns and rising oil prices5 (Cotula et al. 2008; Daniel and Mittal 2009; Zah
and Ruddy 2009). Ethanol production (e.g. from sugar cane or maize) and biodiesel production
(e.g. from palm oil, soy or jatropha6) first exploded in the US and Germany, but from around
2005 onwards increasingly spread to tropical regions (Cotula et al. 2008; J. Peters and
Thielmann 2008, p. 1538). Finally, the subprime crisis of 2007-08 is considered to have
attracted speculative interests to land as a comparatively stable financial asset. Investors are
allured by the low price of arable land in target countries, particularly in Africa (P. E. Peters
2013b, p. 18).7 Overall, McMichael (2012, p. 690) argues that during “the conjunction of food,
energy and financial crises”, international capital markets have gravitated “towards agriculture
as a relatively safe investment haven for the relatively long-term“.
Data on the global land rush so far are of limited quality (Cotula 2013; Schoneveld 2013, p.
21f, 2014; see also Research Paper IV). This is partly due to the dynamic and opaque nature of
the land acquisitions. The available information has relied particularly in the early years of
the debate on media articles and single case studies, often conducted by non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) initially. Recently, more academic knowledge has become available.
There are arguably both over- and underestimates of land deals. The media, for instance, tend
to exaggerate the extent of the phenomenon (Cotula 2013, p. 128; Deininger and Byerlee 2011,
p. 50; Friis and Reenberg 2010, p. 9), and some investors seem to mask failed investments
(Hanlon 2011 in Baglioni and Gibbon 2013, p. 1561). On the other hand, investors and
involved governments of host countries rarely provide transparent information about ongoing
negotiations or concluded land deals, and thus contribute to an underestimation of land deals
(Cotula 2012, 2013, p. 128; Pearce 2013). Part of the uncertainty about land deals can also be
attributed to flawed research methodologies, such as aggregating data of uneven quality
(Edelman 2013; Oya 2013a; Scoones et al. 2013). The thesis addresses these methodological
challenges, among other things (see Research Paper IV).
The Land Matrix, a large open-source database run by the International Land Coalition (ILC),
in partnership with research institutes and donor organisations, provides information about
more than 1,000 concluded land deals totalling nearly 38 million hectares (Land Matrix 2015,
in March 2015). For the share of different purposes of land deals as reported in the Land
Matrix see Figure 2 in Section 1.1.7.
Researchers from a broad range of academic subjects using varying approaches have described
and analysed different aspects of the global land rush (see also Section 3.1 on the fast accruing
evidence). Main findings are summarised in the following, with a particular focus on Africa.
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Investors are usually seen as the primary actors in the global land rush, so this section starts by
exploring the different types of investors. It goes on to describe the role international
organisations play, before it turns to the actors in the countries targeted by investors, as far as
discussed in literature.
Private investors have conducted most of the recent land deals. This includes big food
agribusinesses, agrofuel firms (a considerable number of them start-up companies) and energy
giants (Cotula 2013, p. 173). Increasingly, private institutional investors are also involved.
They can be defined as “financial organizations that invest large sums of money in securities,
real estate, and other assets on behalf of third parties” (Daniel 2012, p. 704; see also White et
al. 2012, p. 629), such as mutual funds, investment banks (e.g. Goldman Sachs), pension funds,
private equity funds (e.g. Carlyle Group) and hedge funds8 (McMichael 2012, p. 686). In terms
of geographical origin of the investors, Schoneveld (2013, p. 29; see also Schoneveld 2014, p.
40), who examined data on more than 500 farmland investments in sub-Saharan Africa
between 2008 and 2012, found that investors from Europe were dominant (particularly the UK,
Norway and Germany), followed by investors from the US, India and Malaysia (see Figure 1).
Governments can become direct investors through state-owned firms and sovereign wealth
funds. Yet they seem to do so relatively rarely. There are only a few cases of land deals
reportedly having been signed directly between two states, e.g. between the governments of
Syria and Sudan. Thus, the predominant view, which is often presented in the media, that the
investors are food-insecure states might need to be revised. However, governments might
support investments through other means such as guarantees or bilateral agreements (Cotula et
al. 2009, pp. 3537; Daniel 2012, p. 703).
Land investments are supported by certain international development organisations, such as
various members of the World Bank Group, in particular the International Finance Corporation
and the Foreign Investment Advisory Service, and others such as the European Bank for
Reconstruction and Development and the International Rice Research Institute (Daniel and
Mittal 2009; McMichael 2012, p. 696). These donor organisations facilitate land deals in two
main ways. First, they support the creation of favourable investment conditions in host
countries (as described in Section 1.1.5). Second, some of them provide direct funding for land
investments “[d]efined as multilateral institutions providing long-term finance for private
sector enterprises in developing and reforming economies” (Daniel 2012, p. 721). According to
McMichael (2012, p. 686), the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the
United Nations (FAO) facilitate land deals dedicated to food production, with the aim of
mitigating the world food price crisis. These investments are strongly criticised. Daniel (2012,
p. 725) disapproves the non-transparent and uncompromisingly profit-oriented activities of
private equity fund managers and states: “It is into such hands that the World Bank Group
places funds while claiming to further its mission of global poverty reduction.”
National governments of host countries are involved in land deals in two major ways: First,
many of them attract and encourage land investments through specific investment incentives
and more generally by seeking to provide a convenient business climate. Their potential
motivations for doing so are displayed in Section 1.1.4. Second, national governments govern
the process of land deals through legal regulations regarding land and (foreign) investment.
These issues are taken up in Section 1.1.5.
The literature on the role and intentions of individual actors in the land deal processes is rather
limited. It suggests that government officials and local elites including local chiefs influence
land deals for a variety of reasons, reportedly often in favour of the investors. Potential motives
are personal benefits including rent-seeking, but also predominant discourses regarding
national development, as will be described in more detail below.
Lastly, we should not ignore agency on village level. Local people may support or oppose
foreign investments. While their scope for intervention may be limited (German et al. 2013, p.
15; Nolte and Väth 2015; Vermeulen and Cotula 2010), they may have considerable influence
on the outcomes of land rush processes in some contexts (e.g. Smalley and Corbera 2012 for
two cases in Kenya; Evers et al. 2013a, p. 6). However, with some exceptions in more recent
literature, there has been little focus on local people’s role and perceptions (Evers et al. 2013a,
p. 4). This thesis makes a contribution in this regard.
Much research into the global land rush has been undertaken from theoretical perspectives
inspired by Marx, involving fundamental criticism of the capitalist economy. Studies using
these perspectives provide prominent conceptualisations of the land rush in different ways, as
elaborated by Derek Hall (2013). Yet, the approaches used also have their limitations in
grasping the phenomenon.
Some proponents of Marxist perspectives portray land deals as an extension of capitalist
relations through the commodification of land and labour. For their analysis, they use Marx’s
‘primitive accumulation’ (Marx 1976), Harvey’s ‘accumulation by dispossession’ (Harvey
2003) and variations of these concepts (summed up in D. Hall 2013) to focus on processes of
the enclosure of the commons and the privatisation of public assets for capitalist purposes
respectively (e.g. Baird 2011; Borras and Franco 2012; Kröger 2014; White et al. 2012;
Wolford et al. 2013). Studies using these approaches provide theoretically informed
representations of the recent land acquisitions, linking them to earlier processes of the creation
and reproduction of capitalist social relations as analysed by Marx. However, the approaches
inspire problematic assumptions about the recent land rush, namely that the targeted natural
resources and the affected people “were previously and straightforwardly outsidecapitalism”
(D. Hall 2013, p. 1596) and that land deals necessarily involve dispossession (ibid., p. 1588)
assumptions that might hold true for many, but definitively not for all recent land acquisitions.
Another concept used by Marxist scholars is ‘accumulation by extra-economic means(e.g.
Akram-Lodhi 2012). This approach is helpful for the analysis of political force and other forms
of coercion used in land acquisitions. Yet, it is important to notice that common definitions of
the global land rush are not limited to land deals involving some form of force, but include
market transactions between willing sellers and buyers of land (D. Hall 2013, p. 1591f).
Finally, some publications drawing on Marxist traditions focus on the drivers of the land rush.
The ‘triple F-crisis’ is considered part of a general crisis of neoliberal capitalism (Borras,
Franco, et al. 2012; McMichael 2012; White et al. 2012). According to this view, in the
twenty-first century accumulation strategies inherent to the capitalist economy have been
confronted with an “accumulation crisis” (McMichael 2012), i.e. with shrinking opportunities
for profitable investments9. Thus, in order to overcome this obstacle, investors are said to
resort to ‘idle’ land in the Global South in a temporary attempt to solve the crisis through
geographical expansion (Baglioni and Gibbon 2013, p. 1561). In sum, land deals are seen as
“spatial fixes for over-accumulated capital” (Corson and MacDonald 2012, p. 268) and
“symptomatic of a crisis of accumulation in the neoliberal globalization project” (McMichael
2012, p. 681). Framing the recent land rush as a result of crises inherent in the capitalist
economy allows critics of the land rush to subsume a range of land-related dynamics into one
term. However, some scholars stress that it is not sufficient to look only at the investor side for
an understanding of the phenomenon, because “as the demand for land has increased, so has
the supply” (Baglioni and Gibbon 2013, p. 1562). In the next sections I thus shed light on the
agrarian development in the targeted countries and on influential discourses, policies and
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In recent years, governments in the Global South have increasingly encouraged land deals as a
form of investment in their countries’ agrarian sector. This comes after governments and
donors alike have seriously neglected agricultural and rural development, particularly in
Africa (Cotula 2013, p. 174; Rauch 2014, pp. 229f; Zoomers and Kaag 2014, p. 205). As
Rauch (2014, p. 233) formulates it, “[r]ural development has been entrusted to inadequately
capacitated local governments on the one hand, and to the commercial interests of private
business on the other”. Consequently, agrarian areas lack functioning rural markets and
adequate infrastructure and suffer from reduced agricultural research and advisory services. At
the same time, environmental conditions pose increasing constraints to agricultural activities in
the form of soil degradation, water limitations and climate change (IAASTD 2009a; Rauch
2014, p. 232f). As a result, many marginal farm households had to put up with decreased
incomes and have been forced to diversify their livelihood strategies. In often vulnerable
situations, they depend on external sources of income and subsistence agriculture at the same
time (Bryceson 2002; P. E. Peters 2013a, p. 551f; Rauch 2014, p. 229f). In more recent years,
many researchers, governments and development agencies agree that some form of investment
in the agrarian sector is urgent to achieve and maintain food security and combat poverty
(HLPE 2013; IAASTD 2009a; Liu 2014; Woodhouse 2012, p. 791). Yet, there is less
agreement on the desired kind of agrarian development. Two conflicting perspectives dominate
on this issue.
The first perspective favours large-scale over small-scale farming. Proponents of this discourse
promote a large-scale industrialised agriculture with input- and capital-intensive production
and call for a new green revolution. They claim that this farming model is more efficient than
small-scale agriculture due to economies of scale, which are based on a division of labour, the
economical use of equipment, and technical superiority (Baglioni and Gibbon 2013, pp. 1570f;
Cotula 2013, p. 173; German et al. 2013, p. 14; McMichael 2012, p. 694). Representatives of
this perspective are among others global food empires (see Van der Ploeg 2010a) and some
international organisations and research institutes (e.g. the International Food Policy Research
Institute, see Borras and Franco 2010, p. 509). The World Bank argues that there is ample
unproductive arable land and a high ‘yield gap’ in many regions of the world (Deininger and
Byerlee 2011). These areas are considered favourable investment targets for large mechanised
farms (McMichael 2012, p. 683; White et al. 2012, p. 632). The modernisation discourse in
agriculture usually goes hand in hand with demands for neo-liberal trade models (White et al.
2012, p. 626; see below).
The presented view is criticised by proponents of the second perspective, who stress the
importance of low-external-input small-scale farms for food security and poverty reduction
in rural areas. Small farms are considered to be more productive than large farms, because of
their use of family labour and adequate farming practices adapted to local environmental
conditions. Proponents of this view argue that small producers contribute a considerable share
of world food production (Baglioni and Gibbon 2013, pp. 15721574; GRAIN 2014; HLPE
2013; Van der Ploeg 2010b). However, Rauch (2014, p. 233) points out that the capacity of
small-scale farmers to produce efficiently and to react to market dynamics has been reduced
due to the neglect of this sector in recent decades. Advocates of small-scale agriculture further
stress the multifunctionality of agriculture, arguing that it produces not only commodities, but
can and should also fulfil ecological and cultural functions and provide livelihoods to rural
poor (HLPE 2013, p. 45; IAASTD 2009b, p. 4). Thus, smallholdings are considered to stand
for a more ecologically sustainable and socially equitable form of agriculture than large farms10
(Bernstein 2014, p. 2). The small-scale farming model is promoted by some researchers,
peasant organisations such as La Via Campesina and overall by proponents of the food
sovereignty concept11 (e.g. GRAIN 2015; HLPE 2013; Van der Ploeg 2010b).
Baglioni and Gibbon (2013, p. 1575f) argue that the dichotomy between the two positions has
softened in recent times, giving way to a more nuanced debate that allows for context-specific
arguments. Accordingly, the co-existence and combination of both farming models is
increasingly being recognised and promoted as a third possible pathway for agrarian
development (e.g. Bernstein 2014; Collier and Dercon 2014; IAASTD 2009a; for a description
of several possible pathways of agrarian development see HLPE 2013, pp. 55-57).
Proponents of all described trajectories for agrarian development consider investment in rural
infrastructure a necessity. In Woodhouse’s view this imperative is “an inescapable part of the
context for land deals with foreign investors” (Woodhouse 2012, p. 781), as most African
governments seem to assert that they do not have the necessary means to provide the requisite
infrastructure. Further, the governments of many African countries seem to be sceptical about
the potential of small-scale farmers and hence favour the large-scale farming model,
sometimes combined with the integration of smallholders (Cotula 2013, p. 173; German et al.
2013, p. 14; Schoneveld 2013, p. 195f). From this perspective, large-scale land deals and
related investments are inherently welcome. They are expected to create a win-win scenario for
investors and host countries, leading to agrarian development through a transfer of skills and
technology, infrastructural improvements, and income options for rural populations (Azadi et
al. 2013; Borras and Franco 2012, p. 35; Daniel 2012, p. 716). Accordingly, national
politicians shape the land deal processes with their visions of national development. For
example, Fairbairn (2013, p. 350) found that government officials in Mozambique were
dismissive of peasant agriculture and therefore did not support local consultations, as they
considered them obstacles to investment. P. E. Peters (2013b, p. 18) also claims that the land
prices in Africa are low due to African politicians’ not considering customary land rights to be
full property rights; they would prefer to set aside such land for their ideas of national
The presented dominant view about (agrarian) development has also shaped policies and
institutions such as legal regulations in land deal processes as outlined in the next section.
In order to understand the nature and outcomes of the land rush, I argue that it is necessary to
look at how land deals take place. The processes of acquiring land in Africa are manifold, but
they have not yet been fully or adequately researched (Nolte and Väth 2015, p. 71). This PhD
thesis adds to the existing knowledge about the factors that influence land deal processes.
These include investment policies and institutions such as land-related legal provisions, and the
way in which regulations are implemented.
Numerous authors espouse the view that neo-liberal development discourses of the past few
decades translated into policies have established conditions that have enabled and
stimulated the recent land deals (Evers et al. 2013a, pp. 1ff; Fairhead et al. 2012; White et al.
2012, pp. 630f). Promoted and supported by the World Bank Group (WBG), the business
environment in the target countries is said to have improved latterly and to have encouraged
increasing foreign investment. For example, governments introduced regulatory and legal
frameworks that provide the requisite investor protection and accounting standards. In many
countries, the improvement of the business climate also first required the creation of modern
land markets and a switch from a traditional system of land tenure to Western concepts of
property. This was supported by donor-funded land titling programmes (Daniel 2012, p. 721f;
Evers et al. 2013a, p. 5; P. E. Peters 2013a, p. 541; Zoomers and Kaag 2014, pp. 205f).
Further, particular investment policies seem to play an important role in the land rush. In many
African countries, including Tanzania, specific agencies are responsible for investment
promotion, and policies are designed to attract foreign investors by offering financial
incentives such as duty exemptions or tax holidays (Daniel and Mittal 2010; Evers et al. 2013a,
p. 5; German et al. 2013, p. 14; Vermeulen and Cotula 2010, p. 910).
Land property concepts, and thus regulations regarding land deals, vary from country to
country. In most African countries unlike in Western Europe with its concepts of private land
ownership central governments have legal control over all or most land, and citizens can only
hold land-use rights (Polack et al. 2013, p. 19). The exceptions are Ghana and Sierra Leone,
where land is legally held by local chiefs. In practice, landholders in rural areas in most
African countries base their individual and common rights on custom law. According to World
Bank estimates, only between two and ten percent of the land in Africa is held under formal de
jure land tenure, and this is mainly in urban areas (Deininger 2003, in Vermeulen and Cotula
2010, p. 905). The legal status of customary land rights differs in each country and ranges
from being unrecognised and mostly ignored (e.g. Ethiopia, Cameroon, Senegal, Mauretania)
to being almost fully recognised and protected (e.g. Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda)
(Alden Wily 2011; German et al. 2013, p. 5; Polack et al. 2013, pp. 1214; Schoneveld 2013;
Vermeulen and Cotula 2010, p. 905). The laws of Mozambique and Tanzania even recognise
customary land rights without formal documentation. However, for Mozambique, Fairbairn
(2012, p. 347) found that the status of unregistered land rights is weaker than that of land rights
with titles. Further, where the registration of customary rights is legally possible (e.g.
Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda), its implementation progress tends to be very slow (Cotula
and Mathieu 2008, p. 23; Polack et al. 2013, p. 20).
Regulations regarding land transfers allow the central governments of almost all African
states to issue long-term lease titles for up to 99 years to investors (Polack et al. 2013, p. 20;
German et al. 2013, p. 5). Whether local landholders need to be consulted or need to give their
approval to a land deal depends on the recognition of individual and common customary land
rights. In Ethiopia and Cameroon, for example, the law does not foresee any consultation with
the affected people. The laws of several countries require at least some sort of consent from the
affected communities as a step in the land transfer process. The laws in Tanzania, Ghana and
Mozambique prescribe that all land transfers must be approved by the respective landholders
or by customary leaders. Further, the laws feature stipulations protecting access rights and
granting compensation (German et al. 2013, p. 9; Polack et al. 2013, pp. 1214; Vermeulen
and Cotula 2010, p. 907). Yet, even in these countries, involuntary expropriation of land is
legally possible in the name of ‘public interest’. However, according to German and her
colleagues (2013, p. 7) this “was not observed in practice in the context of large-scale
agricultural investments. In numerous countries, including Tanzania and Zambia, the land
acquisition process entails a reclassification of the given land plot, turning it into land under
central government control, and thus permanently erasing customary rights. This is in contrast
to Ghana, where the land remains under customary control, i.e. under local chiefs, during the
leasehold period (German et al. 2013, p. 7; Zoomers and Kaag 2014, p. 203).
The relevance of the legal basis is challenged by recent research that compared land deal
processes and outcomes in different African countries. Flaws in implementation and
monitoring seem to be common in countries with differing laws and raise questions regarding
informal institutions and governance. Schoneveld (2013) analysed the situation in four sub-
Saharan countries with different legal frameworks in terms of respecting customary land rights.
He found that the processes of land deals did not considerably vary among the four countries
regarding consultation with local communities and compensation payments, despite the
diverging legal situations. He observed that host states’ legal safeguards are often ignored or
interpreted differently and thus are not effective. German et al. (2013) explored the situation in
four countries three of which are considered ‘best practice’ cases in terms of legal provisions
(Alden Wily 2011) and concluded that it was not the law, but the actors in the land transfer
process that are of relevance for the protection of customary rights (German et al. 2013, p. 14).
For example, Burnod and her colleagues (2013) have shown that state representatives in
Madagascar, in a competition over authority, ignored the progressive land laws that recognise
and protect local land rights. By simply claiming that untitled land was by default state land,
they denied the legal rights of local land users. Further, there are suspected cases of rent-
seeking by land officers and local elites in several places, including reports of customary
leaders such as local chiefs personally pocketing compensation (Cotula 2013, p. 131; Fairbairn
2013, pp. 344ff; German et al. 2013, p. 11; Nolte and Väth 2015). Finally, former and actual
officials, and local elites sometimes collaborate with companies as consultants or on a more
informal basis. They contribute their local knowledge about land governance and their
networks to the investors’ land. This co-optation frequently leads to conflicts of interest when
officials or local representatives, who are supposed to safeguard the local population’s
customary rights, are simultaneously offered incentives to support the investors’ claims.
However, despite the disappointing findings regarding the implementation of regulations,
Vermeulen and Cotula (2010, pp. 912f) argue that strong land laws are essential, though not
sufficient, to protect local people’s land rights.
Land deals are expected to have diverse implications, in relation to local people’s access to
land and land-based resources, regarding labour and other income opportunities, in terms of
new infrastructure, the modernisation of agricultural technologies and knowledge transfer, and
also regarding social dynamics and conflicts. Environmental concerns have also been raised
about monoculture plantations, but this PhD study does not look into these. Findings so far
appear to show that the impacts are similar among different countries and settings, as argued
by Schoneveld (2013) who has analysed 38 projects in four African countries, and by Kaag
and Zoomers (2014, pp. 202f) who edited a compilation of case studies from twelve countries
in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Several studies including research conducted by the FAO
(Liu 2014) in five countries suggest that the negative effects of land deals often outweigh the
positive effects in target countries (see also Schoneveld 2013, p. 283; White et al. 2012, p.
633). Yet we need to differentiate between local impacts: there are often both winners and
losers (Cotula 2013, p. 133f; Oya 2013b, p. 1535). Furthermore, according to Evers and her
colleagues (2013a, p. 16) not all land deals lead to negative implications for local people.
Some of the reported and expected outcomes are further elaborated in this section. However,
all findings need to be treated with due care, because there is still only limited and sometimes
biased evidence on the impact of land deals on the host countries (Liu 2014; Nolte and Väth
2015, p. 70; Oya 2013b, p. 1545). According to Cotula (2013, p. 127) and Oya’s review of
socio-economic impacts of the land rush (2013b, p. 1536), this is partly due to limited quality
research on the subject. This thesis contributes sound empirical evidence to the existing
knowledge while being aware of the following issue brought up by Cotula. He emphasises
“…the time distribution of costs and benefits in large-scale investments is often uneven, so
looking at short-term outcomes alone may result in a skewed picture: negative impacts
loss of land, for instance are often felt first, while jobs, opportunities for local businesses
and government revenues may only fully materialize at a later stage. For many recent
agricultural investments in Africa, it is just too early to tell” (Cotula 2013, p. 127).
The most commonly reported result of land deals is local people’s loss of access to land and
land-based resources such as farmland, forest or pastureland (Cotula 2013; Kaag and
Zoomers 2014 p. 203; Schoneveld 2013 p. 186) When investors acquire land, this is usually for
long periods of time (up to 99 years) and the process is often irreversible, in the sense that the
land may be returned to the state but not to the former local landholders (Kaag and Zoomers
2014, p. 203). For reasons I highlighted in the previous section, customary tenure rights are
often not properly respected or even completely ignored (Alden Wily 2011; Anseeuw, Alden
Wily, et al. 2012). As a consequence, former landholders lose the basis for their subsistence or
other land-based livelihood strategies, sometimes along with ancestral and spiritual values
(McMichael 2012, p. 693). There are concerns about reduced local food security as a result of
former landholders’ limited or lack of access to land and the export-oriented enterprises of the
investors. These concerns are even graver for target countries already suffering from food
insecurity (Liu 2014, p. 11; Mann and Smaller 2010, p. 6).
In many cases, people are not only dispossessed of their land, but are also displaced (Kaag and
Zoomers 2014, p. 203; Schoneveld 2013, p. 289). They are expected to find land elsewhere,
but due to the increasing land scarcity it is feared that people often only find land that is less
fertile or less accessible. Sometimes they might have no other choice than to move to urban
areas (Cotula 2013, p. 131; Kaag and Zoomers 2014, p. 203). In the worst cases, land
dispossession and evictions involve physical violence. For example villagers in Mali claim to
have been beaten by the police (Oakland Institute 2011, in Cotula 2013, p. 130).
It seems that local landholders or land users are often not compensated for their loss (Cotula
2013, pp. 131f; Kaag and Zoomers 2014, p. 203). Particularly where the legal setting foresees
compensation only for crops or other ‘visible improvements’, not for the land itself, people
may lose grazing land, forests or farmland without standing crops (e.g. during dry season)
(Cotula 2013, p. 131). Also, where land is owned by the state, the national authorities allegedly
often seize lease payments (Vermeulen and Cotula 2010, p. 910).
When land investments require labour, part of the population is brought in either as plantation
workers or as contracted farmers (Borras, Kay, et al. 2012, p. 412). According to a World Bank
report, “for bulk commodities, it is at the production, rather than the processing stage that
employment is generated” (Deininger and Byerlee 2011, p. 38). The amount of labour needed
per hectare varies considerably depending on the crop and the production technologies. It
ranges from ten jobs per 1,000 hectares for grain to 700 jobs per 1,000 hectares for sugarcane,
when it is irrigated and manually harvested (Deininger and Byerlee 2011, p. 38). This might be
part of the reason why, as stated by Daniel (2012, pp. 718f), the extent of employment creation
and its impact is so controversial. Liu (2014, p. 12) found in case studies in five countries that
the number of jobs created was always smaller than initially announced by the investors, and in
many cases decreased over time (see also Deininger and Byerlee 2011, p. xiv; Zoomers and
Kaag 2014, p. 216). Critical analysts doubt the employment effects of large-scale investment
for structural reasons, as “the primary objective of public and private companies is to increase
shareholder value, not to increase employment” (Mathis 2008, p. 10 in Daniel 2012, p. 719;
see also Li 2011).
The data are also ambiguous regarding the type of employment created. Some argue that
large-scale investments need better-educated workers with improved skills, who often cannot
be found among the local population (Daniel 2012, p. 719; Kaag and Zoomers 2014, p. 203;
Liu 2014, p. 12). But there is also evidence for the opposite to happen, where large plantations
require low-skilled labour (see Daniel 2012, p. 718). In these cases, labour opportunities may
benefit poor and marginalised groups and “can make a real difference to their lives” (Cotula
2013, p. 135), for example for women formerly depending on the land of their husbands in
Ghana and for landless men in Senegal, who appreciated earning a salary (Cotula 2013, p. 137;
Maertens and Swinnen 2009). Yet, overall, Li (2011, p. 294) and Zoomers and Kaag (2014, p.
203, 216) consider the benefits of labour opportunities to be fairly small and disappointing.
Gibbon (2011, p. 45) analysed literature regarding large-scale plantations in Africa in the
twentieth century and found that they offer „low quality jobs“ in terms of salary, health, safety
and other conditions.
Some authors highlight social issues and tensions that are caused or exposed by land deals.
Several case studies in Madagascar found that the emergence of investors triggered
competition over the control of land rights among local elites and exacerbated land-related
tensions (Burnod et al. 2013, p. 375). Some authors raise the question as to whether former
land users are at all interested in receiving new labour opportunities. Such a transformation in
livelihood strategies entails not only changes in an economic sense, but also in terms of
identity, for example in the case of pastoralists or owners of successful small-scale farms who
may not want to give up their lifestyles (Cotula 2013, p. 135; Keeley et al. 2014, p. 3). Cotula
(2013, p. 127) warns that one should not see the two outcomes loss of land, but gain in
income opportunities as the trade-off between land and labour that it might appear to be at
first sight. The problem is “...that the people suffering adverse impacts and those reaping the
benefits do not necessarily coincide” (ibid.). Examples of this might be cases where the elderly
people who usually control the land lose some of it, but young people get the jobs; or where
one village loses land, but people from another village get the jobs (Cotula 2013, p. 135; see
also Kaag and Zoomers 2014, p. 203; Liu 2014, p. 13). Keeley et al. (2014, pp. 2f) report that
new jobs in Ethiopia have often been taken by workers migrating there from another region, in
some cases fostering conflicts with the resident ethnic groups.
The infrastructure support promised by investors includes health or education facilities,
roads and local markets. It is often argued that investors do not deliver on their promises (e.g.
Azadi et al. 2013, pp. 21f; Schoneveld 2013, p. 289). There are no reliable data for the
proportion of projects that genuinely provide such benefits. Of the 117 projects in the Land
Matrix where information regarding benefits is available at all, around 77% of the projects
showed some kind of infrastructure improvement. Other benefits, but in smaller numbers,
were financial support and capacity building (Anseeuw, Boche, et al. 2012, p. 44). In terms of
technology transfer, Zoomers and Kaag (2014, p. 216) indicate disappointing results, while Liu
(2014, p. 13) published mixed findings but suspects that it is too early to analyse these effects.
Besides the more or less spatially limited outcomes of single land deals discussed above, there
are also worries about global changes due to the land rush. One major concern is an overall
restructuring of the agrarian sector in favour of large-scale plantations along with a “wide-
ranging global ‘land reform’ in this case a regressive land reform where governments take
land from the poor and give (or sell or lease) it to the rich” (White et al. 2012, p. 620).
McMichael (2012, p. 693) fears that “[o]nce the concept of a ‘global commons’ becomes the
modus operandi [] [e]viction of ‘unproductive’ populations becomes the basis of ‘rational
planning’ driven by claims for increased productivity, debt-reduction, export enhancement
and rural development“. This would have implications for labour too. Labour requirements for
small-scale farming are indicated as around 1’000 per 1,000 hectares in a study in Indonesia
(Milieudefensie et al. 2007, in Li 2011, p. 284), compared to 10-700 for large plantations as
indicated in the World Bank’s global report (Deininger and Byerlee 2011, p. 39). As a
consequence, for certain crops and production systems such an agrarian transition would result
in “large ‘surplus populations’ of the dispossessed”12 (White et al. 2012, p. 624; see also Li
2011) and thus to ‘de-agrarianisation’ (Bryceson 1999; Bryceson et al. 2000). Landless
people lacking other options to access land would migrate to urban areas, but their labour
could not be absorbed by the urban economy (Cotula 2013, p. 131; Li 2011; Zoomers and
Kaag 2014, p. 203). This would lead to large increases in the number of impoverished former
rural inhabitants, with far-reaching consequences for the whole society.
There are additional concerns about global food security. These are based on the argument,
presented above, that smallholders are more efficient and more sustainable producers of food
than large-scale plantations. Hence, the overall replacement of small-scale with large-scale
farms would lead to a decrease in food availability. Yet, on the other hand, the view that small-
scale producers could feed the world is contested and needs more differentiated analysis,
focusing on food availability as well as questions of access to food for non-farmers (Bernstein
2014, pp. 1051-1053; Woodhouse 2012, p. 791).
A differing type of agrarian transition is portrayed by R. Hall (2011b, p. 206f) for Southern
Africa. Hall believes that mega land deals will decrease in number and make way for
investments that incorporate smallholders in value chains to their detriment, for example as
contract farmers with unfavourable conditions. As a consequence, she is not primarily worried
about de-agrarianisation, but instead fears rural proletarianisation.
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Large-scale forestry plantations seem to account for a substantial share of the global land
rush, although the figures are somewhat contested. According to the analysis of the purposes of
980 concluded land deals registered in the Land Matrix in September 2014 (see Figure 2; Nolte
2015, p. 7), land deals for forestry rank in fifth position in terms of the number of projects
(making up around 10% of all projects), but second in terms of acquired area, reaching around
22% of the totally acquired area of 37.3 million hectares. Accordingly, it can be concluded that
forestry investments are on average comparatively large land deals. However, Schoneveld
(2013, p. 30) found in his analysis of around 500 investments in sub-Saharan Africa between
2008 and 2012 that only about 10% of the acquired area was dedicated to wood products.13
There is evidence that the area of forest plantations has grown considerably over the last two
decades. Between 1990 and 2010, ‘planted forests’ increased by 48.1% (by 32.1% in Africa) to
around 264 million hectares worldwide (around 15 million hectares in Africa).14 This immense
expansion stems not only from foreign, industrial large-scale plantations, but also from large-
scale plantations established by domestic investors or by the government, and small-scale tree
plantations run by smallholders or local communities (Kröger 2014, p. 244; see also Gerber
2011; Deininger and Byerlee 2011, p. 12). It is predicted that demand for land for industrial
forestry is likely to increase further in the next two decades (Kröger 2012a; Lambin and
Meyfroidt 2011). Yet, only a limited number of scientific studies on foreign investment in
forestry plantations have been conducted so far (Cotula 2012, p. 651; Kröger 2014, p. 236;
examples are Bozmoski and Hultman 2010; Gerber and Veuthey 2010; Kröger 2012b). This
study partly fills this gap.!
Forestry plantations are established for several often combined purposes: for producing
traditional industrial products such as timber or pulp (often in an integrated mill); for energy
generation such as woodchip- and pulp-based diesel; and for conservation and climate change
mitigation initiatives.15 In the latter case, trees are planted as providers of carbon sequestration
certificates that can be sold on the global market for greenhouse gas emission reductions. Such
plantations are often established under development cooperation agendas (Overbeek et al.
2012), e.g. as part of the REDD+ initiative (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest
Degradation ‘plus’ conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest
carbon stocks)16 (Kröger 2014, pp. 236, 243). As promoters of climate change mitigation, tree
plantations are part of the emerging green economy (Kröger 2014, p. 236). They are also
0" 100" 200" 300" 400"
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labelled as ‘green grabs’, which are estimated to be increasing worldwide (Fairhead et al. 2012,
p. 238; see also Corson et al. 2013). When plantations are established for combined purposes,
the trees can be considered as flex crops (see Section 1.1.1). According to Kröger (2014, p.
236) ‘flex trees’ will probably contribute to a future increase in tree planting.
Compared to other crops, forestry
plantations are long-term endeavours
because it takes at least 10-15 years
until the trees can be harvested. At
the same time, they are highly
vulnerable investments, prone to
accidental or deliberate fires and
logging. The large plantations are
difficult to protect (Kröger 2014, p.
245). Fairbairn (2013, p. 338) for
example reports uncontrolled fires in
forest plantations as a local means of
resistance in Mozambique. There-
fore, I argue, forestry companies
depend to a greater extent on the
acceptance of the local population
than other companies. Applying
Corporate Social Responsibility is a
worthwhile strategy for these
companies, as they intend to gain the
local population’s goodwill in order
to reduce their risks (see Figure 3).
This might be even more relevant for
investors like the examined ones (see
Section 5) that need to observe
international social and environ-
mental standards, either to engage in
the trade of carbon credits or to
obtain specific certificates. I therefore assume that forestry plantations have potentially more
favourable outcomes for local people than investments in other sectors.&
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Global overviews on the land deal situation remain rather vague estimates due to the
intransparent nature of single land deals. Further, there is no standard definition of the global
land rush. However, a fast growing body of literature from varying perspectives has been
coming up with findings on the different dynamics, processes and actors that make up the
phenomenon. Yet, the quality of literature must be carefully assessed (Oya 2013b, p. 1536).
On the investment side of the global land rush, a broad range of mainly private actors is
engaged, partly supported by governments and international organisations. Proponents of
Marxist perspectives have provided compelling explanations for investors’ increased demand
for land, ascribing the commonly named drivers of the land rush (e.g. food, fuel, finance) to a
fundamental crisis of the capitalist economy. Further, the outline of discourses on different
agrarian pathways and the powerful neo-liberal development model provides a better
understanding of the potential motives of host country governments that welcome land
investments and of supportive international donors that promote favourable business
conditions. Yet, framing the land rush in such global economic processes and discourses tends
to underestimate the influence of institutions and the agency of specific actors, particularly in
the states that host land deals (see also Smalley and Corbera 2012, pp. 1041f).
In the target countries, the land deals are to a certain extent shaped by investment policies
influenced by the above mentioned development discourses and by land laws; African laws
vary considerably regarding the recognition of customary land rights and local people’s
decision-making. Strong regulations were found to be necessary but by far not sufficient to
protect local people’s land rights. In order to understand the processes and outcomes of land
deals, it is equally important to focus on involved stakeholders and their relations among each
other. Land deals are often pictured as processes of investors allied with domestic elites against
local people, while local people are portrayed as homogenous groups with the same stakes.
There has not yet been sufficient research into the crucial role and motives of different actors
among these groups in negotiating or regulating land deals. More in-depth case studies are
needed to provide a nuanced analysis of the stakeholders and their interaction (Edelman 2013;
Evers et al. 2013a, p. 4; R. Hall 2011b; Smalley and Corbera 2012, p. 1042).
When conceptualizing the global land rush and its outcomes, one should be careful to avoid
over-simplified representations of the phenomenon as either “providing much-needed capital
and technology for third world agricultural production, food security and employment” or as
“neo-colonial scrambles for land and resources conducted by predatory investors at the
expense of marginal populations abroad” (Wolford et al. 2013, p. 191f; see also R. Hall 2011,
p. 195; White et al. 2012, p. 638). Some studies from Marxist perspectives run the risk of
overemphasising the negative effects of the global land rush. As Borras and Franco (2012, p.
47, emphasis in the original) state: “It is often taken for granted, rather than empirically
demonstrated, that such mega land deals are ‘bad’ for the ‘local people and communities’ and
are, or ought to be, opposed by them.” Research so far reports a range of economic and social
impacts on local people. Yet the outcomes of large-scale investment are not clear overall.
Studies often offer an overview but do not provide a detailed and differentiated view of intra-
community differences. Also, local people’s perspectives are rarely portrayed. Context-specific
evaluation is needed in order to bring up a more differentiated picture of the land rush’s
outcomes and to bring in local views (Edelman et al. 2013, p. 1528; White et al. 2012, p. 633;
Woodhouse 2012, p. 791). In Oya’s (2013b, p. 1536) words: “there is no shortcut for good
quality evidence”.
Finally, little attention has been paid to foreign investment in forestry plantations yet, despite
its global reach and growing relevance in light of energy and climate concerns (Cotula 2012, p.
651; Kröger 2014, p. 236). Further research on forestry investments is important not only
considering the pivotal share they account for in the global land rush, but also because of their
specific characteristics due to their slow growing and vulnerable produce, making them
particularly dependent on local goodwill and thus potentially more positive examples of land
deals compared to others.
Rural livelihoods are changing in many areas due to population growth, climate change,
resulting pressure on natural resources and economic globalisation processes. Non-land-based
livelihood strategies are gaining in importance. However, many rural livelihoods are still
mainly based on access to land and land-based resources (Bah et al. 2003; Bryceson 2002;
IAASTD 2009b; Östberg and Sledgers 2010; Rauch 2014; Rigg 2006). In this regard,
transnational land deals may have a disruptive influence on rural livelihoods.
As demonstrated in the previous sub-sections, the literature on the global land rush lacks
comprehensive evidence on the details of land deal processes, including the role of actors at
different levels and different groups within communities. Furthermore, the overall outcomes of
large-scale investment are not clear, and context-specific evaluation is needed. Finally, the
views of local people are often absent from research. These shortcomings call for more in-
depth case studies. Evidence on cases of land deals for forestry plantations is lacking in
This study therefore aims to contribute to a more nuanced picture of land acquisition
procedures and the implications of transnational land deals for local livelihoods. It does this
while also taking account of social differentiation among rural people and articulating their
perspectives, in a case study on forestry investments. In a broader sense, I would like this PhD
thesis to contribute to the understanding of transforming rural livelihoods in a context of a
globalised economy and increasing pressure on land and land-based resources (see also Rauch
et al. 2014).
On this basis, I formulated the following three research questions and sub-questions at the
outset of this study. A fourth, methodological question was added during the research process
when I faced challenges to acquire reliable information on the land deal situation in Tanzania.
1. How do land acquisition processes take place?
- What institutions (and at what scales) govern the process when an interested foreign
investor seeks to acquire land?
- Which actors and social groups are included or excluded from the decision-making
- What power relations shape the decision-making process?
- Whose land is transferred to investors?
- Which social groups have to give up their land use rights?
- Who is compensated for land deals, for what exactly, and how? Who is not
Research question 1 is addressed in Research Papers I, II and III.
2. What are the (immediate) implications of land deals and related investments for local
- What are the implications in terms of lost or reduced access to land and land-based
- What are the implications in terms of compensation for land and land-related
- What are the implications in terms of new labour opportunities and potential benefits
(such as public infrastructure) assured by investors?
- Which social groups benefit from opportunities such as new income possibilities and
public infrastructure and which do not?
Research question 2 is addressed in Research Papers I and II.
3. How do local people perceive foreign land investments?
- Who has which expectations and concerns vis-à-vis foreign land investments?
- How do different social groups see their role in land transition processes?
- How do local people value the implications of foreign land investments?
Research question 3 is addressed in Research Paper I and to a limited extent in Research
Paper II.
4. How are data regarding the global land rush (re)produced and reported?
- What are the challenges for data collection and data generation?
- What are the practices of data reproduction and reporting?
- What are the consequences of these challenges and practices for the knowledge about
the global land rush?
Research question 4 is addressed in Research Paper IV.
The following sections display at which stages of field research the research questions were
tackled, and present in more detail the conceptual approaches and methods that were employed
to answer them. For an overview see Table 1.
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The thesis was embedded in the interdisciplinary research programme ‘Swiss National Centre
of Competence in Research North-South’ (NCCR North-South) with the subtitle ‘Research
Partnerships for Sustainable Development’. The twelve-year programme was funded by the
Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and the Swiss Agency for Development and
Cooperation (SDC), and ended in June 2014. It consisted of different interlinked research
projects and built up a network of research partners in over 40 countries (NCCR North-South
This PhD study was associated with the Research Project 2 on livelihood futures of
marginalised groups in resource-scarce areas in Pakistan, Nepal and Tanzania (Shahbaz and
Sharma 2009). In Tanzania, the NCCR North-South had established long-term collaboration
with the University of Dar es Salaam and with the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in
Morogoro. The formal and informal collaboration with several NCCR North-South members
in Tanzania and elsewhere formed an important basis for the fieldwork of this study. My
association with SUA was a prerequisite for obtaining a Tanzanian research permit. Just as
important as the institutional tie was the informal support I received in the form of scientific
exchange, sharing networks and practical information.
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I chose a (mainly) qualitative research approach for this thesis, in line with the research
questions and the employed conceptual approaches. In terms of epistemology, this study can be
positioned in the realistic paradigm as it was understood by March and Furlong (2002), which,
to be brief, can be seen as between the positivist and interpretist positions. In line with the
central claim of openness in all respects of a qualitative research process (Flick et al. 2008, pp.
22ff; Meier Kruker and Rauh 2005, p. 14) I applied an iterative research design (Flick 2007,
pp. 122ff). The whole research process was circular, in the sense that the literature review, data
collection, data analysis and publishing results were conducted alternately. I also kept the
research setting flexible, in the sense that the definition of the case studies and thus the focus
of the research were defined on the basis of new information acquired and analysed during
the research process. The research questions were also slightly refined, and an extra one was
formulated during the process.
While the livelihoods perspective was chosen in the beginning, the other conceptual
approaches were selected after first analysis of the data. In this rather new research field, it
helped to use an inductive procedure so that I could be open to the empirical findings during
the data’s generation and their first analysis. The overall research approach was qualitative.
However, the methodical approaches for data generation and analysis differed slightly
depending on the research question; hence, also the degree of interpretist vs. positivist position
varied (see also Section 3.4). The fourth research question was tackled through a detailed
chronological compilation of my own data and data from an extensive literature review.
Comparing primary data with subsequent publications allowed me to reconstruct practices of
data reproduction and their consequences.
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The empirical research process involved various trips to Tanzania, and can be divided into
three different stages in terms of content.
I conducted five field visits to Tanzania between 2009 and 2013. They resulted in a total of 23
weeks of field work (see Figure 4). An initial explorative field visit served mainly to collect
first information, including some unpublished reports about the land deal situation in Tanzania,
and to start establishing contacts, both within and outside the NCCR North-South network.
More extensive field visits, dedicated to the three main stages of field research, were conducted
during 2010 and 2011. Lastly, in early 2013, I travelled to Tanzania to present my research at a
NCCR North-South workshop, and took the opportunity to conduct a few final interviews with
key informants and to share my preliminary findings with the Tanzania Investment Centre.
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Stage%II Stage%III Admin.%tasks
Explorative%field%visit Presentation%of%findi ngs *%Oct%2009%(2%weeks)%/%**%Feb%2013%(1%week)
I spent a great deal of time on administrative issues, including repeated registration as a
research associate at the SUA, obtaining a temporary Tanzanian residence permit, and getting
research clearances for different districts, along with recommendation letters for specific
I did my empirical research in three main stages (see Table 2).
Stage I National setting and land deal situation: I initially pursued two broad aims. I sought
to gain a deeper understanding of the legal procedures and relevant institutional actors during
land acquisitions by foreign investors. Parallel to that, I aimed to gain an overview of the
number and types of foreign land deals in Tanzania and the accompanying debates so that I
might choose the case studies. The second task proved to be time-consuming, as only limited
information was available and it was often of poor quality (see Section 3.1). The gap in reliable
data that I discovered led to the formulation of a fourth research question, the publication of a
working paper (Locher and Sulle 2013) and thence to Research Paper IV.
Stage II Case studies: During the second and main stage of field research, I visited the two
case study areas three times (case study A) or twice (case study B), respectively. My research
assistants (see Section 3.4.4) and I focused on the first three research questions. The data of
this research resulted in the publication of Papers I-III.
Stage III Insights in attitudes of district officials in additional districts: Realising that
officials (and politicians) play an important role in the land deal processes, I became interested
in their varying practices, particularly the underlying attitudes towards land deals. This specific
sub-question of the first main research question was investigated in six districts as well as the
case study districts. I could only incorporate the results in this PhD thesis to a limited extent.
However, the insights I gained helped me to sharpen my understanding of the district officials’
influence on the decision-making process, and were taken up in Research Papers I and II.
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In this PhD research I tried to approach the field without having any major theoretical
frameworks in mind in order to be open to different findings and to base my analysis largely on
empirical data. Although I have some sympathy for criticism of capitalism, I did not want to
conduct my research based on Marxist approaches and related assumptions (as outlined in
section 1.1.3). Of course, I am aware that like all humans and hence all researchers I am
not free of certain assumptions about my research topic. I was (and to a more limited extent I
still am) convinced that land deals could and can bring both negative and positive effects and
that they might produce winners and losers among the rural population too. I started from the
point of view that local people in a given area might not necessarily disapprove of investors,
and that a smaller or larger group of local inhabitants might welcome them. In other words, I
thought that the overall picture in this critical debate was not black or white, but varied
depending on the context and perspective and merited careful scrutiny. However, my focus
was always on rural people, assuming that they are those most affected by land deals; I was
generally convinced that inhabitants of a certain region should have priority when there are
decisions to be made about developments in their area.
My position has influenced my choice of conceptual approach. I employed a selection of
approaches in a rather eclectic way. By combining the strengths of the different approaches, I
gave consideration to the various aspects of the research topic. The critical livelihoods
perspective provides an actor-oriented position and sharpened my perception of local
perspectives. The property concept and the legal pluralism perspective helped me to grasp land
tenure and how it is embedded in social organisation. The theory of access and the bargaining
power model were useful for understanding processes and power relations that are relevant for
access to, and appropriation of, land. The conceptual approaches, the way they are interlinked
or can be related to each other and their relevance in this study are described in more detail in
the following sections. The use of the different approaches for the different research questions
is displayed in Table 1.
"The appeal is simple: look at the real world, and try and understand things from local
perspectives." (Scoones 2009, p. 172)
As an overall approach to this study, I adopted a critical livelihoods perspective (Geiser et al.
2011; Scoones 2009). Livelihoods approaches also labelled sustainable livelihood
approaches were stimulated by Conway and Chambers two decades ago (Chambers and
Conway 1992, in De Haan and Zoomers 2005, p. 27) and have been developed by different
authors since. Carney provides a common definition of livelihoods (Carney et al. 1998, p. 2, in
De Haan 2012, p. 347) as follows: “A livelihood system comprises the capabilities, assets
(including both material and social resources) and activities required for a means of living”.
Livelihood approaches take an actor-oriented positionan emic perspective and highlight
the active role of poor people instead of seeing them as passive victims. They focus on the
micro level, mainly on households and individuals (De Haan and Zoomers 2005, p. 28).
Livelihood approaches can be seen as a reaction to the structural perspectives that prevailed
until the 1980s, including dependencia, neo-Marxism and modernisation theories. Their appeal
“look at the real world, and try and understand things from local perspectives” (Scoones
2009, p. 172) has called for acknowledging diversity in complex livelihood strategies. It has
thus challenged single-sector approaches to multifaceted rural