The "Science" of ‘Land Grabbing’

Authors: Arun Agrawal*, University of Michigan, Daniel Brown, University of Washington, Chuan Liao, Arizona State University, Jens Lund, University of Copenhagen
Topics: Land Use and Land Cover Change, Sustainability Science, Coupled Human and Natural Systems
Keywords: land tenure, property rights, wellbeing, land change
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Coolidge, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper presents an assessment of existing research on large-scale-land-tenure-related changes. These changes are a part of a larger process of structural transformation in lower income countries. We suggest that the effectiveness of research on land transactions is hobbled by three critical problems. One, global datasets on land transactions underestimate the total number of transactions.Two, the total area of implemented projects is far smaller than official contracts for transacted areas owing to local resistance to tenure changes, speculative investments, and challenges in mobilizing inputs. Three, findings reported in the literature often rest on non-representative cases and samples. To strengthen the underpinnings of land use and land cover related policy implications of scholarship on land transactions, we call for more systematic and representative sample selection so that cases represent variations the key drivers of land-tenure-related impacts on social and ecological outcomes, including biophysical characteristics, socioeconomic differences, contractual arrangements, transaction size, and other variables relevant to explaining outcomes. We also suggest that quantitative analyses are necessary to strengthen causal inference regarding the effects of tenure changes, and generalization from individual research studies to the larger universe of land transactions. Greater attention to the social-scientific foundations of research on land transactions is also likely to enable more robust estimates of the social, economic, and ecological effects of transactions and provide the evidence necessary for better land tenure regimes and policies to guide future research.

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