Large Scale Land Acquisitions in Southeast Asia: Rural Transformations between Global Agendas and Peoples’ Right to Food

How can potentially negative effects on local populations of large-scale land acquisitions be mitigated and what could institutions do to protect human rights of the affected population?

Project Summary

The project deals with the issue of the socio-political, economic and environmental potentials and problems characterizing transnational, large-scale land acquisitions (LSLA). Over the last years, a forceful eruption of cross-border land acquisitions took place. There is, however, only limited academic knowledge of the circumstances in which these land deals take place – in terms of processes and contexts – as well as in respect to their impacts on local populations. LSLA may have significant and uneven impacts on the livelihood systems of local populations. Yet, it is acknowledged that the promises are not fulfilled and that land acquisitions are in some cases detrimental to a large number of populations.

The project’s preliminary findings from field research indicate that the on-going agrarian transformation associated with rubber-tree plantation in Cambodia and Laos increases the vulnerability of the less well-off segments of the population. Based on comprehensive case studies in both countries, the project aims at producing generalised insights for evidence-based decision and policy making. The research will be structured around three core questions: What are the processes among various actors and institutions across different administrative scales determining the negotiation and implementation of land acquisition? What are the impacts of land deals on local populations in terms of livelihood system and vulnerability? What role do existing policies, institutions and mechanisms play (and what role could they play) in mitigating the tensions related to LSLA and protecting the human rights of local populations?

Academic Output

Working Paper

Large-Scale Land Acquisitions in Southeast Asia: Rural transformations between global agendas and peoples’ right to food

This paper presents the findings of a two-years long research project funded by the Swiss Network for International Studies. Based on comprehensive case studies in Laos and Cambodia, the research was structured around three core questions. What are the development contexts and processes among various actors and institutions across different administrative scales that are determining the negotiation and implementation of LSLAs? What are the impacts of land deals on local populations in terms of livelihood system, resilience and adaptation? What role do human rights law and monitoring and judicial mechanisms play (and what role could they play) in mitigating the tensions related to land investments and protecting the human rights of local populations? The research draws on land change science as a strand of geography and sustainability science, a perspective that is grounded in political economy with a strong emphasis on agrarian transformation, and legal and human rights studies with particular attention to the right to food. Beyond its contribution to academic debates, the research aims at providing material for policy dialogue with authorities, UN agencies, international financial institutions and non-governmental organizations in their effort and programs to accompany the implementation of LSLAs and to mitigate their possible negative impacts

Executive Summary

This report is structured according to the three core questions described above.

The first chapter describes and analyses recurrent linkages between LSLAs implementation processes and different contexts of agrarian transitions. The second chapter analyses the implementation of land acquisitions and the consequent transformation of rural livelihoods in the mid-term. The third chapter identifies human rights violations associated with LSLAs and evaluates the role that human rights law and monitoring and judicial mechanism play (or could play) in mitigating the tensions related to LSLAs and protecting the human rights of local populations in Cambodia and Laos.

Book

Large-Scale Land Acquisitions: Focus on South-East Asia

Large-scale land acquisition, or ‘land grabbing’, has become a key research topic among scholars interested in agrarian change, development, and the environment. The term ‘land acquisitions’ refers to a highly contested process in terms of governance and impacts on livelihoods and human rights. This book focuses on South-East Asia. A series of thematic and in-depth case studies put ‘land grabbing’ into specific historical and institutional contexts. The volume also offers a human rights analysis of the phenomenon, examining the potential and limits of human rights mechanisms aimed at preventing and mitigating land grabs’ negative consequences.

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Other Output

Policy Brief: Large-Scale Land Acquisitions and livelihoods in Cambodia and Laos: Increasing Vulnerability

Knowledge of the consequences of large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) remains scarce, often limited to the immediate impacts measured in terms of hectares of land loss. In-depth field research in Cambodia and Laos shows that LSLAs are intermingled with other processes of dispossession that undermine local livelihoods. The development of large-scale non-food export-oriented agriculture offers opportunities only to a few, whereas the majority of local populations cannot adapt and are left without sustainable alternative. Furthermore, land transactions are often arising amidst a framework of weak governance that aggravates its challenges and negative consequences for populations. National governments have not taken any substantial measure that can significantly prevent further acquisitions.

Other Output

Policy Brief: Beyond Anecdotal Evidence of Large Scale Land Acquisitions

International agricultural land deals are now a global phenomenon. Within this spectrum, Southeast Asia in particular has become a major hotspot. The transformative potential of such Large Scale Land Acquisitions (LSLA) cannot be overstated, whether gained directly via concessions and/or land purchases, or indirectly via contract farming. Land deals in Southeast Asia can only be understood by looking at the various national actors, policies, and the determination of the national Governments to achieve self and externally imposed economic targets. The key drivers of such phenomena in Laos and Cambodia were therefore assessed in light of the complex regional dynamics and bi-lateral relationships, as well as the perceptions of more powerful neighbouring countries, such as China, Vietnam and Thailand. The signing-off of thousands of hectares on paper must be assessed in the light of the complex bundles of which land deals form a part. These include promises regarding infrastructural development, employment, financial and non-financial assistance, as well as business involvement between the host and investor countries. However, Government aspirations and lip-service paid to the harnessing of “empty or under-utilized” land for economic development in order to provide infrastructure and job opportunities in marginal areas however seem to be outweighed by the investors’ demand for large accessible land plots and the price tag on it. Find

Other Output

Policy Brief: Large-Scale Land Acquisitions, Human Rights and State Accountability

Holding States accountable for human rights violations stemming from LSLAs is a cause for concern in many countries affected by the phenomenon. In many contexts, at the national level judicial and quasi-judicial mechanisms to seek redress for these violations are non-existent, unavailable or ineffective. In certain settings, regional or international mechanisms become the sole or primary avenue for seeking accountability.

Against this backdrop, regional and international human rights mechanisms have already demonstrated a willingness to address human rights implications of LSLAs, with different human rights actors addressing different angles of the phenomenon.

Other Output

Master’s Thesis: Land, livelihoods and access to resources in Laos PDR – Large-scale land acquisitions in a dynamic context of agrarian transformation

This Master’s Thesis presents a qualitative case study of the consequences of transnational land acquisitions for local people’s access to natural resources and the associated changes in land systems and livelihood strategies in the Northern Uplands in the Lao PDR. The study focuses on a local community in Nambak District, Luang Prabang Province, where a Chinese rubber company was granted a land concession for 7000ha of land in 2006. By drawing on theoretical conceptualisations of access and exclusion, the study shows how the concession company worked in close collaboration with the District authorities to access land in the selected villages, and how the subsequent implementation led to a large-scale enclosure of upland resources that these villages depended on. Building on the land system concept and on theoretical livelihood perspectives, the study then analyses the village-level consequences of the concession. Aside from the direct conversion of extensively used swidden areas to intensive rubber cultivation, the study reveals a significant negative coupling between the upland land-use conversion and the paddy component of the land system. By imposing a strict penalty scheme for damage to rubber by roaming animals, the concession company effectively prohibited villagers from continue livestock rearing. This had negative impacts on soil fertility in the paddy fields and declining paddy rice yields. In general diversification, commercialisation and increasing mobility in livelihood strategies were observed, partly in response to the changes brought by the concession, partly in response to the overall processes of agrarian transformation facilitated by state development policies and regional economic drivers. By supplementing the finding from the main case villages with evidence from the neighbouring villages, the study indicates that a high level of diversity in the experiences with the concession exist in the area, influenced by the availability of land, alternative income opportunities and road infrastructure prior to the concession. The study concludes that the analysis of resource enclosure, land use and livelihood change requires analytical attention to the full complexity of the existing land systems, and stresses the importance of place-based and context-sensitive studies.

Other Output

Master’s Thesis: Between Chamkar and the Kitchen: A Livelihood Approach to the Implication of Land Grabs on Food Security in Cambodian Rural Households

The thesis devotes special attention to the implications of land grabs practices on food security in Sein Serrey Village in Kraya Commune of Kampong Thom Province> While maintaining food security as its major focus, this thesis incorporates the phenomenon of forced eviction, one of the multi-facets of land grabs that is often sidelined in the vast majority of literature. The methodology of this thesis comprises both a literature review and qualitative field research, the latter was conducted from January to April 2013 in Cambodia. This thesis has shown that land grabs and forced evictions caused households to lose access to productive agricultural land. The lack of access to productive agricultural land determines, or at least exacerbates, the failure of their postresettlement livelihood strategies hence makes them more vulnerable to food insecurity. This research should thus be understood as a small but no less meaningful step in the direction of new research on land grabs, forced evictions, food security and rural livelihood in general. The findings of this thesis clearly problematize and put into conversation current debates on the correlations between these different study areas and broadly indicate ways of synergizing them.

Research Team

Christophe Gironde
Coordinator
Graduate Institute Geneva

Christophe Golay
Co-Coordinator
Graduate Institute Geneva

Ioana Cismas
Principal Member
Graduate Institute Geneva

Olivier De Schutter
Associated Member
UN United Nations

Cecilie Friis
Associated Member
Københavns Universitet

Andreas Heinimann
Associated Member
Universität Bern

Vong Nanhthavong
Associated Member
Universität Bern

Peter Messerli
Co-Coordinator
Universität Bern

Irene Biglino
Principal Member
Graduate Institute Geneva

Amaury Peeters
Principal Member

Oliver Schoenweger
Principal Member

Patricia Paramita
Associated Member
Graduate Institute Geneva

Status

completed

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