Land grabbing: whatever you do, don’t mention the G-word.

Large scale land purchases get some more media attention, this time from Jonathan Glennie over at The Guardian:

“A new report on land acquisition by the Munden Project/Rights and Resources Institute brings an important angle to the land “grab” debate. Rather than focusing on the ethics of land grabbing, the report makes the business case for working with local communities, arguing that failure to inform or fairly compensate affected locals heightens the risks to investors. Why? Because affected communities start to make life difficult for abusive or lazy companies, leading to massive unexpected costs or even an eventual full-scale retreat.

What is slightly disconcerting is that Glennie managed to write an entire article on land grabs while only using the world “government” once. NGOs and the media have largely painted the land grabbing story as a situation where evil companies are parachuting in and snatching land away (for example, check out Oxfam’s recent campaigning). In reality, land acquisitions which circumvent local property rights are only possible when governments themselves are incompetent, corrupt or overly-impatient. Of course campaigners realise this, but it’s much easier to set this up as story of evil capitalism than it is of governance, the latter being harder to sell and even harder to treat. I’m not trying to pick on Glennie for leaving out a lengthy discussion of governance in his article, but it would be nice for people to start using the g-word a bit more.

3 thoughts on “Land grabbing: whatever you do, don’t mention the G-word.

  1. Luis Enrique

    February 18, 2013 at 11:04am

    I may be guilty of a “views on the shape of the earth differ” misguided desire for “balance” here, but I can’t help thinking that these land deals could be good things, particularly if the incumbent land dwellers are properly compensated. I’d like to read some exploration of that possibility. Have any of these land deals, anywhere, been “done right”?

  2. Lee

    February 18, 2013 at 9:57pm

    Wait, so companies *are* targeting weak governance? Doesn’t this contradict your last post?

  3. Matt

    February 18, 2013 at 10:01pm

    Where in this post am I saying that companies are targeting weak governance? I’m making a supply-side argument here (i.e. weak governments might just be more likely to give up land, not that companies are actively seeking out weak governments). Apologies if that wasn’t clear.

    You would be right in pointing out that even if the supply-side argument holds, we should be seeing it reflected in the data. My last post wasn’t arguing that governance didn’t have an effect on land sales, just that Oxfam’s report wasn’t good enough to identify it.

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