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Research Report

Contemporary processes of large-scale land acquisition by investors: Case studies from sub-Saharan Africa

Laura German
George Schoneveld
Esther Mwangi
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2011
Pages: 56
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-2)

    Global trends such as rising food prices and policy commitments to alternative energy, have over the preceding decade led to a rapid expansion in the scope and scale of transboundary investments in land for the cultivation of food and biofuel crops (Cotula et al. 2009, de Schutter 2011, World Bank 2011). A recent study by the World Bank (2011) found 56.6 million ha of large-scale farmland deals to have been announced between 2008 and 2009 – with more than 66% of the area targeted by these investments located in Africa. This demand is estimated to be equivalent to more than...

  2. (pp. 3-4)

    Land reform has often been central in efforts to promote rural development (Brown 2005). Indeed, land reforms were a major concern for development thinkers seeking to enhance equity and efficiency in the first few decades following the Second World War. This wave of reforms did not shape land relations on the African continent, where such aims were considered redundant due to the perceived abundance of land and flexibility of communal land tenure institutions (Platteau 1992).

    By the end of the 1980s, this trend seems to have reversed, with land policy reforms rapidly expanding as a condition of structural adjustment lending...

  3. (pp. 5-6)

    We used the following methodology to assess the legal underpinnings of large-scale land acquisition and the actual practices involved: a content analysis of key policies and legislation, key informant interviews with government agencies involved in land administration and investment promotion, key informant interviews with local chiefs and authorities and, where possible, focus group discussions with affected households. In cases where fieldwork was limited (e.g. Mozambique), we analysed evidence from published case studies to assess land acquisition processes in practice.

    Research on actual processes of land acquisition in each country consisted of a comparative assessment of findings from multiple case studies...

  4. (pp. 7-18)

    The statutory underpinnings of customary rights and how these rights are safeguarded in the process of large-scale land acquisition are presented below in country narratives and summarised in Table 3.

    Land ownership in Ghana can be classified into two broad categories: that under customary ownership (constituting 78% of the total land area) and that controlled by the state (20% of the total land area), with the remaining area under some form of shared ownership (Deininger 2003). The Ghanaian Constitution of 1992 forbids the sale of customary land, only allowing for temporary alienation through leasehold titling. Customary land can only be...

  5. (pp. 19-34)

    This section summarises findings from the four-case study countries related to the actual practice of land acquisition and the extent to which it reflects legislated norms and processes. Findings by country are organised according to the key variables specified in the methodology.

    Since 2005, Ghana has witnessed a rapid rise in the number of commercial investors seeking to acquire land for plantation agriculture. Over a period of five years, investors have gained access to approximately 1.2 million ha – most of which is located in central Ghana’s forest-savanna transition zone (Schoneveld et al. in press). The Government of Ghana, however,...

  6. (pp. 35-42)

    Findings reflect wide variability in the legal foundations and institutional mechanisms for the protection of customary rights and in the processes for consulting customary land users. This variation provides a basis for learning lessons on what more progressive legal protections might look like.

    All of the case-study countries were found to have constitutional, policy and/or legislative provisions to safeguard customary land rights. All countries also forbid the sale of land to foreign entities. However, we observed significant differences regarding those who hold ultimate rights to land and may therefore issue leasehold title to investors.

    Ghana has the most far-reaching provisions...