Land use decisions : Improved control of transnational land acquisitions

The worldwide investment boom involving large-scale acquisitions of fertile soils continues. What are the main impacts of this boom on local populations and soil ecology? And which political measures could reduce or even eliminate the predominantly negative consequences?

  • Background (completed research project)

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    By 2018, around 1600 large-scale land acquisitions or concessions had been recorded. In total, around 50 million hectares of agricultural land is managed by mostly large agro-industrial enterprises. They transform fertile soil into large-scale monocultures.

  • Aim

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    The main objective of the project was to expand our understanding of how large-scale land acquisitions come about and how they evolve, as well as how land and soil conflicts can be avoided or solved. More than 20 case studies from countries in Africa, South-East Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe were analysed. We wanted to see if we could identify any patterns in the way that the livelihood of local people and soil ecology were affected by land acquisitions or if the consequences differed from case to case.

  • Results

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    Our analysis showed a repeated pattern of negative consequences on local livelihoods after large-scale land acquisitions. Again and again it could be shown that the local elites benefit most from the investments. And, as a result, the majority of family-run businesses suffer increased economic, social and political pressures.

    In terms of soil ecology the following patterns were observed: soil compaction increased by 10-30%. Nutrient content decreased by up to 50%. This loss can be compensated with inorganic fertilisers; they lead to an increase in nutrients but they risk being washed out by both below and above ground water. The carbon content of the soil was reduced by between 5 to 40% and soil organic matter between 20 to 50%.

  • Implication for research

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    We identified ten indicators, which are most frequently linked to large-scale land acquisitions. These indicators highlight key aspects of how to resolve conflicts or avoid them altogether.

  • Implications for practice

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    In practice, mitigating the consequences of land acquisitions on the local population and soil ecology is most successful if the local population has an effective and enforceable right to veto an acquisition. However, this was only effective if the local community was strong and able to express its own development ideas and oppose the interests of investors and allied state functionaries.

  • Original title

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    Archetypes of transnational land acquisitions: towards a generalization of case study knowledge for informed soil governance (ATLAS)