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Natural Resource Governance around the World

Issues and Conceptual Framework for Understanding Land Grabs.

Document elaborated by AGTER within the Scoping Study of a Collaborative Research of the ILC, Commercial Pressures on Land

Written by: Michel Merlet, Clara Jamart, Mathieu Perdriault, Samuel L'Orphelin

Writing date:

Organizations: Association pour contribuer à l’Amélioration de la Gouvernance de la Terre, de l’Eau et des Ressources naturelles (AGTER), International Land Coalition (ILC)

Type of document: Research Paper

During the first quarter of 2009, AGTER carried out on behalf of the International Land Coalition a scoping study for a worldwide collaborative research on new «â€¯Commercial Pressures on Land. »

In order to be able to orient the reflection and the different works within this controversial topic, we started elaborating a conceptual framework. It makes clear the nature of the different mechanisms and specifies what is really new and what has been existing for ages.

This reflection has been constructed from numerous consultations within AGTER’s network and with ILC’s members. It also benefitted from contributions of the members of the Land Committee of the French Cooperation.

After having summarized the different actors’ incentives and the main drivers of the phenomena, we founded out that we have to distinguish two different situations:

  • privatization of land that was under customary systems. This means a deep change in the management and governance of land.

  • concentration of land plots already managed through a land system of private property.

This paper looks at what are favorable conditions for massive land grabs. In order to do that, it takes in account the existence of different land systems and natural resources systems, as well as of governance mechanisms, implying or not the control and regulation of transfers of rights. Some historic processes, as colonialism and forced collectivization on the one hand, market globalization on the other hand, created situations particularly prone to the present massive appropriation of land. Which is new is really the speed of the phenomena, which doesn’t permit to establish new governance mechanisms.

In order to understand the real economical nature of the main stakes and to value the interest for development of any contribution of external funds, we have to distinguish very clearly the capture of land rents, understood as unearned incomes from the effects of investments on productivity.

One of the major risks of these massive processes of monopolization of land and natural resources is the one of an increasing development of agrobusiness and destruction of family farming systems. The proposed conceptual framework invites us to explore the risks and opportunities not taking in account only the short term, but also effects on middle and long term, on economical, social and ecological aspects.

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