Our Work

Land Tenure and Land Grabs


Resources for Researchers is a database intended as a source for researchers, policymakers, students, and the public to become better informed of major recent analysis on global food security. Included are different perspectives provided through a range of academic journals, government research, think tanks, popular press and opinion pieces, and scholarly reviews. This information has been collected from open sources and includes works that have been produced within the last decade. We have noted gated articles. We will regularly update the database as new works are published. Other topics will be added in the future, such as climate change and forestry. This is a collaborative project. If you think we’ve missed a major piece of work, please let us know.

Land Tenure

“Land Tenure” is the de jure or de facto relationship between people and land, specifically regarding ownership, access, and usage. Land Tenure encompasses the competing interests of individuals, communities, corporations, and governments. Lack of coherent laws or enforcement of them often complicates land ownership for farmers in the developing world. Ownership based on male inheritance, and gender-selective ownership rights undermines the abilities of women who make up the majority of small share farm holders to manage the land they cultivate.

Explore the Land Tenure Topics and Regional Challenges below:

Understanding the Importance of Land Tenure Systems in Food Security

Land Tenure Systems in Africa

Land Tenure Systems in Asia

Land Tenure Systems in Central and South America

Understanding the Importance of Land Tenure Systems in Food Security

The Case for Land Rights

Tim Hanstad; The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Landsea Commentary Series; 2014

In this joint series coinciding with the World Bank’s 2014 Land and Poverty Conference, Landsea President and CEO Tim Hanstad explains how critical land rights are in order to tackle global hunger.

Tenure, Governance, and Natural Resource Management

Dr. Safia Aggarwal and Dr. Mark S. Freudenberger; USAID Issue Brief; April 2013

This USAID brief assets that land tenure is critical as the component for ensuring good governance and effective natural resource management.

The Financial Risks of Insecure Land Tenure: An Investment View

Prepared for the Rights and Resources Initiative by The Munden Project; December 2012

Through the use of case study analysis, this paper illustrates the risks of investment in land that lacks a tenure system.

A ‘Land Sovereignty’ Alternative? Towards a Peoples’ Counter-Enclosure

Saturnino M. Borras Jr. and Jennifer C. Franco; Transnational Institute (TNI) Agrarian Justice Programme, July 2012

Is it appropriate to move from a land tenure and land grab discussion to one about land sovereignty?

Land Tenure Security and Poverty Reduction

International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); May 2012

Making an assumption that land tenure systems are critical to moving very poor people out of poverty, this IFAD report documents its work in several countries to improve people’s circumstances through the development of tenure systems.

Policy Recommendations

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); Global Hunger Index, 2012

In Chapter 5 of its Global Hunger Index IFPRI makes policy recommendations for countries to improve their food security strategies, one of which is the responsible governance of resources.

Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Committee on World Food Security (CFS); 2012

Produced by the FAO and the CFS this landmark document sets out a key set of guidelines for countries voluntarily seeking to implement responsible land tenure systems with the goal of obtaining increased food security.

New frontiers of land control: Introduction

Nancy Lee Peluso and Christian Lund; The Journal of Peasant Studies; September 14, 2011

This collection reinforces the role of land control and its economic impact still in the 21st century.

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

Oliver De Schutter; United Nations Human Rights Council; December 2009

This report describes the role of land tenure and systems as a component to the right of each person to food.

Secure Land Rights for All

United Nations Human Settlements Programme; 2008

The document examines the role of secure land rights in developing a more stable rural and urban future for all citizens.

Improving Access to Land and Tenure Security

International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); December 2008

This in-depth policy document provides policy guidance and recommendations for the complex process of developing land tenure systems.

Land Tenure Reform and the Drylands

United Nations Development Programme, Global Drylands Initiative; April 2003

Should dry lands also be included in a land tenure system?

Land Tenure and Rural Development

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Land Tenure Studies; 2002

This comprehensive document provides a clear understanding of the vital role of land tenure systems and how people involved in development projects may work to build and strengthen them.

Centre for Land Tenure Studies Publications

Publications Page; Centre for Land Tenure Studies, Norwegian University of Life Sciences

This page opens to the home of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences’ Centre for Land Tenure Studies, which devotes its work to issues on land tenure and related issues.

Land Tenure Center Publications

Publications Page; The Nelson Institute Land Tenure Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The page opens to comprehensive list of journals, papers and book chapters produced by LTC staff and affiliates.

The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else

Hernando de Soto; 2000

In his landmark book Peruvian Economist de Soto concludes that the existence of a strong legal structure regarding property and property rights directly impacts the success of capitalism.

Land Tenure Issues in Africa

Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity

Frank F. K. Byamugisha; World Bank; July 22, 2013

This World Bank report points to the lack of land tenure systems and highlights steps for improving these systems in order to bring the continent out of hunger and poverty.

Land Policy and Governance Reforms and Agricultural Transformation, Ghana

Hosaena G. Hagos; International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); November 2012

This IFPRI Discussion Note highlights best practices for land tenure reform in sub-Saharan Africa using creative approaches in Ghana as an example.

Who Owns the Land? Perspectives from Rural Ugandans and Implications for Land Acquisitions

Allan Bomuhangi, Cheryl Doss, and Ruth Meinzen-Dick; International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); November 2011

The authors present a review of the land tenure systems in three areas in Uganda with attention to the differences between men and women as landholders.

Land Reform: The State We are In (gated)

Stefan Schrimer; African Studies; November 25, 2009

This review provides the state of play of land reform efforts in South Africa.

Land Tenure Security and Agricultural Productivity

Karol Boudreaux and Daniel Sacks; Mercatus Center, George Mason University;

September 2009

Following the kick-off of the G-8 global food security project (2009), this report emphasizes the critical importance of addressing land tenure reform in Africa if the program is to have success.

Land Rights for African Development: From Knowledge to Action

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Collective Action and Property Rights; February 2006

The document is a collection of papers presented at a workshop hosted in 2005 by the UNDP and the International Land Coalition.

Land Tenure Issues in Asia

Land to the Tiller of Myanmar

Roy Prosterman and Darryl Vhugen; New York Times; June 13, 2012

With the opening of Myanmar to economic development, these writers call attention to the critical need for land tenure reforms.

Land-Tenure Policy Reforms: Decollectivization and the Doi Moi System in Vietnam

Michael Kirk and Nguyem Do Anh Tuan; International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); November 2009

The authors review the impact of 1980s land reforms on agriculture growth and economic development.

Land Tenure Issues in Central and South America

Land and Sovereignty Brief No. 4 – Land Conflicts in Argentina: From Resistance to Systemic Transformation

Zoe Brent; Food First – Institute for Food and Development Policy; December 12, 2013

The author describes the results of Argentina’s move to increase its agricultural development on its small holder farmers and indigenous populations in light of the country’s weak land tenure system.

Land Grabs

“Land Grabs” are the purchase of large tracts of land in poorer and developing countries by wealthier countries or by corporations. The purpose of these acquisitions is to grow and export crops to food insecure nations and region, often with large and growing populations, for government programs or corporate profit. Land grabs often take advantage of countries that are desperate for revenues and have loose enforcement of property rights. This situation has come under criticism as it has the potential to abuse environmental laws, labor laws, and cooperation for food security.

Explore the Topic of Land Grabs and Their Implications Across Regions below:

Understanding Land Grabs – Positive vs. Negative

Land Grabs in Africa

Land Grabs in Central and South America

Land Grabs in Asia and by Asian Companies and Governments

Understanding Land Grabs – Positive vs. Negative

No Land-No Food-No Life

Margaret Miller – Documentary – January 2014

Miller’s documentary provides interviews with small holder farmers across the developing world who provide first-hand accounts of losing their land and their livelihood.

Investors should work with farmers, not grab their land

Pascal Liu; The Guardian – Poverty Matters Blog; September 20, 2013

In this blog, Food and Agriculture Senior Economic Liu describes the reasons why governments should encourage large agriculture companies to work with small holder farmers to increase production rather than purchase their land.

In Ethiopia, more land grabs, more indigenous people pushed out

Will Davison; The Christian Science Monitor; September 16, 2013

Correspondent Davison describes a transformation taking place in Southern Ethiopia as the government leases land and relocates natives who have resided there for generations.

The politics of evidence: methodologies for understanding the global land rush

Ian Scoones, Ruth Hall, Saturnino M. Borras Jr., Ben White, and Wendy Wolford; The Journal of Peasant Studies; June 28, 2013

This document examines the methodologies used to quantify and evaluate land grabs and their usefulness.

Land & Sovereignty Brief No. 2 - Governing the Global Land Grab: Competing political tendencies

Saturnino M. Borras, Jr., Jennifer Franco and Chunyu Wang; Food First – Institute for Food and Development Policy; June 18, 2013

A look at the global land grab and the politics of global land governance.

Database says level of global ‘land grabs’ exaggerated

Matt McGrath; BBC News, Science & Environment; June 10, 2013

Are land grabs really occurring in a scope and size to be of concern?

Migration is expulsion by another name in world of foreign land deals

Saskia Sassen; The Guardian; May 29, 2013

Is the person who can no longer work the land following a land grab really just migrating?

Governing Global Land Deals: The Role of the State in the Rush for Land (gated)

Wendy Wolford, Saturnino M. Borras Jr., Ruth Hall, Ian Scoones and Ben White; Contested Global Landscapes, Cornell University; March 2013

In this introductory document for a special issue on global land grabs, the authors explain the complexities of “the state.”

The Global Farmland Rush

Michael Kugelman; New York Times; February 5, 2013

The challenges of land grabs in developing countries and what can be done to prevent negative consequences.

The Global Land Grab

Jennifer Franco, Saturnino Borras Jr., Alberto Alonso-Fradejas, Nick Buxton, Roman Herre, Sylvia Kay, and Timothe Feodoroff; Transnational Institute (TNI) Agrarian Justice Programme; February 2013

TNI offers a primer on land grabs.

‘Our Land, Our Lives’: Time out on the global land rush

Kate Geary; Oxfam International; October 4, 2012

In this Discussion Brief Oxfam calls on the World Bank to freeze its investments in large-scale land acquisition as a means of changing the debate on land grabs.

The Global Farms Race: Land Grabs, Agricultural Investment, and the Scramble for Food Security

Michael Kugelman and Susan L. Levenstein (Editors); 2012

Get a host of opinions on the pros and cons of land grabs.

Looking back to see forward: the legal niceties of land theft in land rushes

Liz Alden Wily; The Journal of Peasant Studies; May 28, 2012

This paper puts current land grab activities in an historical context.

Situating private equity capital in the land grab debate

Shepard Daniel; The Journal of Peasant Studies; May 28, 2012

What is the role of private equity in land purchases?

The new enclosures: critical perspectives on corporate land deals

Ben White, Saturnino M. Borras Jr., Ruth Hall, Ian Scoones, and Wendy Wolford; The Journal of Peasant Studies; May 28, 2012

This collection of papers examines land acquisition from both an historical context and in today’s political and economic climate and examines its impacts.

Green Grabbing: a new appropriation of nature?

James Fairhead, Melissa Leach, and Ian Scoones; The Journal of Peasant Studies; April 19, 2012

Through the purchase of land in the interest of food, fuel or to protect forests – green grabbing - who wins and who loses?

China’s ‘Developmental Outsourcing’: A critical examination of Chinese global ‘land grabs’ discourse

Irna Hofman and Peter Ho; The Journal of Peasant Studies; March 1, 2012

Is China really buying up vast hectares of land – what does the data show?

The gender implications of large-scale land deals

Julia Behrman, Ruth Meinzen-Dick, and Agnes Quisumbing; The Journal of Peasant Studies;

March 1, 2012

An examination of case studies on the impact of large land purchases on rural men and women

Land and Power : The growing scandal surrounding new waves in investments of land

Bertram Zagema; Oxfam International; September 12, 2011

Zagema discusses the results of land purchases on those working the lands and makes key recommendations.

Challenges posed by the new wave of farmland investment

Klaus Deininger; The Journal of Peasant Studies; March 24, 2011

This article attempts to bring together data in determining the amount of land purchases taking place, its anticipated productivity outcomes and other challenges.

How not to think of land-grabbing: three critiques of large-scale investments in farmland

Olivier De Schutter; The Journal of Peasant Studies; March 24, 2011

Are we really thinking about land acquisitions correctly, or should we frame the debate differently?

The Global Land Grab: An Analysis of Extant Governance Institutions

Phoebe Stephens; International Affairs Review; 2011

Stephens examines new regulatory systems that govern land purchases and draws a conclusion on which type will likely dominate.

Rising Global Interest in Farmland – Can it Yield Sustainable and Equitable Benefits?

Klaus Deininger; World Bank; 2010

This balanced document provides data to demonstrate current trends and recommendations for achieving benefits and caution regarding pitfalls to land purchases for agricultural development.

From Land Grab to Win-Win

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Policy Brief; June 2009

The FAOs policy brief acknowledges that we need more data on the true amount of land purchases taking place and then attempts to lay out recommendations for positive outcomes.

“Land Grabbing” by Foreign Investors in Developing Countries: Risks and Opportunities

Joachim von Braun and Ruth Meinzen-Dick; International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Policy Brief; April 2009

This concise brief defines the risks of land grabs but proposes solid recommendations for carrying out land purchases in developing countries in a positive, acceptable manner.

The Great Land Grab: Rush for World’s Farmland Threatens Food Security For The Poor

Shepard Daniel with Anuradha Mittal; The Oakland Institute; 2009

The authors question positives of land purchases for food production and express concern that the key focus of food security for the world’s hungry is being lost in the debate.

Land Grabs in Africa

The Great African Land Grab?: Agricultural Investments and the Global Food System

Lorenzo Cotula; Book, Royal African Society; August 6, 2013

Cotula offers a detailed look at large land acquisitions across Africa, pointing out the winners and losers.

When ‘helping’ Africa resembles grabbing its resources

George Manbiot; Mail & Guardian; June 13, 2013

Manbiot writes a cynical opinion about the work of the G8 to address global food security and its impact on Africa.

Large-scale land deals from the inside out: findings from Kenya’s Tana Delta

Rebecca Smalley and Esteve Corbera; The Journal of Peasant Studies; May 28, 2012

Go into depth with two case studies from Kenya.

New investment, old challenges. Land deals and the water constraint in African agriculture

Philip Woodhouse; The Journal of Peasant Studies; April 12, 2012

What about the role of adequate water for growing crops on these large tracts of land?

‘Land grab’ as development strategy? The political economy of agricultural investments in Ethiopia

Tom Lavers; The Journal of Peasant Studies; March 1, 2012

What’s going on in Ethiopia regarding land purchases?

Food Security or Food Sovereignty: The Case of Land Grabs

Logan Cochrane; The Journal of Humanitarian Assistance; July 5, 2011

Using an Ethiopian case study, Cochrane argues the importance of food sovereignty for achieving food security.

African Farmers Displaced as Investors Move In

Neil MacFarquhar; New York Times; December 21, 2010

A first-hand look at farmers being displaced through a large tract purchase in Mali.

Land grab or development opportunity? Agricultural investment and international land deals in Africa

Lorenzo Cotula, Sonja Vermeulen, Rebeca Leonard, and James Keely; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); 2009

An examination of the key trends and drivers of land purchases in Africa and their impacts.

Land Grabs in Central and South America

Land & Sovereignty Brief No. 3 - The Great Soy Expansion: Brazilian Land Grabs in Eastern Bolivia

Miguel Urioste F. de C.; Food First – Institute for Food and Development Policy; September 10, 2013

The author describes multiple negative results from the purchase of lowlands in Bolivia.

Land and Sovereignty Brief No. 1 – “Sons and Daughters of the Earth:” Indigenous Communities and Land Grabs in Guatemala

Alberto Alonso-Fradejas; Food First – Institute for Food and Development Policy; April 11, 2013

A glimpse into the impact of land purchases on natives communities in Guatemala; whose is buying this land, and why?

Divide and Purchase: How Land Ownership is Being Concentrated in Colombia

Oxfam International; September 2013

Using a case study of the purchase of a large tract of land in Colombia by Cargill, the authors share negative results on the small holder farmers.

Land grabbing in Latin America and the Caribbean

Saturnino M. Borras Jr., Jennifer C. Franco, Sergio Gomez, Cristobal Kay, and Max Spoor

The Journal of Peasant Studies; May 28, 2012

Based on multiple FAO reports on land grabs in Latin America and the Caribbean, the authors examine the context of purchases in the region and their differences from African land purchases.

The rifle and the title: paramilitary violence, land grab and land control in Colombia

Jacobo Grajales; The Journal of Peasant Studies; September 14, 2011

An examination of violence in land grabs in Colombia

Brazil Aims to Prevent Land Grabs in Amazon

Alexei Barrionuevo; New York Times; December 26, 2009

To save its rain forest from deforestation through large land grabs, Brazil implements a new law but faces several challenges in implementing.

Land Grabs in Asia and by Asian Companies and Governments

China ‘to rent five percent of Ukraine’

Alex Spillius; The Telegraph, September 24, 2013

A report on a new 50 year agreement between Ukraine and a Chinese company to lease three million hectares in Ukraine’s eastern Dnipropetrovsk region

Land Grabs in Cambodia

Mu Sochua and Cecilia Wikstrom; New York Times; July 18, 2012

Devastating examples of real world victims of land grabs in Cambodia within the context of a lack of a positive land tenure system.

The land question: special economic zones and the political economy of dispossession in India

Michael Levien; The Journal of Peasant Studies; May, 28, 2012

The author examines the impact of the State’s push to transfer land ownership in India from small holders to capitalists through a program called Special Economic Zones (SEZs).

Land grabs, land control, and Southeast Asian crop booms

Derek Hall; The Journal of Peasant Studies; September 14, 2011

Hall utilizes information on booms in several agricultural crops to highlight land grabs and their locations and then compares the impact of these changes, depending upon the kind of land tenure systems that exist in countries across Southeast Asia.

Relevant Organizations

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Together with Landsea the Council has published a series on land rights and global food security.

IFAD and Land Issues

The International Fund for Agricultural Development is a specialized agency of the United Nations that uses various tools and approaches to strengthen poor rural people’s access and tenure and their ability to better manage land and natural resources, individually and collectively.

Futures Agriculture – Land

Futures Agriculture Consortium is an Africa-based alliance of research organizations that focuses on many agricultural and food security topics, such as land grabs and the consequences, specifically in Africa.

Land Acquisitions and Rights

The International Institute for Environment and Development highlights the latest publications and news in regards to land rights.

The Journal of Peasant Studies (gated)

This journal publishes many studies on the effects of land grabs and the importance of land rights.

Oxfam – Land Grabs

Oxfam, a development organization, exposes land grabs in developing countries and advocates for land entitlements.