Land grabbing / dispossession

Overview:

Land grabbing is an over-arching term that denotes the seizure of land from existing users, and sometimes owners, by more powerful commercial or state interests.  It is associated closely with new transboundary investments in grain and biofuel production following the 2008 food and energy price spikes.  There are many cases of outright seizure of land deemed unoccupied, underutilised or illegally settled by smallholders.  However, there are many less clearcut but nonetheless oppressive means by which powerful interests have got access to land.  In the Mekong Region, there is an investment dynamic that takes capital from China, Thailand and Vietnam to Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.  This is reinforced by structures of political power and vestiges of socialised landholding that dispossess smallholders.

Key reform issues:

  • Moratoria on land concessions
  • Demarcation of land off-limits to land concessions
  • Inventory of land concessions
  • Compensation mechanisms and pricing principles
  • Transparency in land allocation

Current critique and debate:

Land grabbing includes appropriation of land for both public and private advantage, and in some countries (notably Vietnam) there is a clear policy distinction between the two. In Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, on the other hand, land grabbing for private gain has been allowed if it is deemed to promote economic development.  The new land use policy in Laos seeks to provide market-based compensation for those thus displaced, but with rates set by the State rather than by direct negotiation.  In Myanmar, military involvement in land grabbing has made the process even less transparent. Critique often focuses on the fact that beneficiaries of land grabbing are foreign investors given advantages over local farmers, but state officials have also received private gain.

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