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Sustainable livelihoods in the global land rush? Archetypes of livelihood vulnerability and sustainability potentials

Christoph Oberlack, Laura Tejada, Peter Messerli, Stephan Rist, Markus Giger


Large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) have become a cornerstone of current transformations of agro-food–energy systems on a global scale. LSLAs involve the transfers of rights to use, control, or own land from smallholder households or communities to corporate actors (e.g. commercial firms, public investment funds) through sale, lease, or concession of large areas, typically larger than 200 hectares.

Proponents conceive such large-scale investments inland as a prime development opportunity for resource-rich, but capital-poor countries, arguing that LSLAs would involve the transfer of capital and technology, creation of employment, new business opportunities as well as technological and socio-economic spillovers for local economies in their target regions. By contrast, critics of this global land rush point to significant adverse impacts including the displacement of land users, the appropriation of water and food by corporate investors, and exacerbation of social conflicts.

Correspondingly, international organisations have been working actively to establish international guidelines and principles that support actors in governing the global land rush. This paper aims to contribute to such understanding by analyzing recurrent patterns of factors and processes through which LSLA generate impacts on the livelihoods of land users in their target regions. The results point to a set of key factors and processes explaining the varying outcome of the global land rush.

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