P008 – Ethnographies of “Land Grabbing” from a Gender Perspective in Africa
8 July, 16:00-17:30

Haller Tobias / Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Bern, Switzerland


Land tenure systems in Sub-Saharan Africa are rapidly changing, not only because of ongoing state led land reforms, large-scale land acquisitions and their direct impacts, but also because of prior social, political and economic changes on regional and local scale. Ongoing research after a large wave of publications in different journals on the topic labelled as Large Scale Land Acquisitions or “Land Grabbing” highlights the way investments are put in practice in Africa but also indicate problems and challenges in a new light. On one hand, large-scale investments are associated with locally demanded development in so called “underused areas” in Africa. On the other hand, there are substantial negative environmental and social effects associated with this type of industrial agricultural investments in terms of biodiversity, land and water degradation and on social and food security issues. Often, a gender perspective and gender related common property theories are seldom used to analyse these processes. Similarly the emic perceptions of these land deals are not well understood. The panel focuses on these issues and on institutional change in land and gender relations and highlights how men and women are differently affected by these land and other institutional changes that took place before and after the investments.
The panel includes cases from Sierra Leone, Kenya, Rwanda and Ghana and begins with a theoretical paper on land, common property and gender.

Ethnographie de « l’accaparement foncier » selon une perspective de genre en Afrique
Les systèmes fonciers en Afrique sub-saharienne sont dans une phase de changement rapide, non seulement à cause des réformes étatiques en cours, d’acquisitions foncières à large échelle et de leurs impacts directs, mais aussi comme conséquence de changements économiques, sociaux et politiques plus anciens qui ont rendu possibles les changements actuels aux niveaux régional et local. Après une vague importante de publications dans différents journaux scientifiques sur le thème des acquisitions foncières à large échelle ou « accaparement foncier », la recherche actuelle met en évidence comment les investissements sont mis en œuvre concrètement en Afrique et jette une lumière nouvelle sur les problèmes et les défis qui en découlent. D’une part, ces investissements sont associés à des demandes locales en faveur du développement de zones « sous-utilisées ». D’autre part, ces investissements en faveur de l’agriculture industrielle produisent des effets environnementaux et sociaux souvent négatifs en termes de biodiversité, de dégradation de la qualité des sols et de l’eau, ainsi qu’en termes de sécurité alimentaire. Ces processus sont par ailleurs rarement analysés sous une perspective de genre. Les perceptions émiques de ces transactions foncières sont en outre mal comprises. Ce panel se focalise sur ces questions et sur le changement institutionnel dans les relations foncières et de genre. Il vise à mettre en évidence comment les hommes et les femmes sont touchés par ces changements institutionnels dont certains ont commencé avant les grands investissements fonciers actuels.

Paper 1

Gerber Jean-David / Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Switzerland

An institutional analysis of the disruptive impact of large-scale land acquisitions on the governance of the local food system

Large-scale land acquisitions (LSLA) lead to the expansion of private forms of land tenure in countries where access to land was often governed by non-exclusive forms of land rights such as common or public property. In this paper, we argue that LSLA are more than a form of land privatization: LSLA are a (partial) appropriation of the food system. This change of perspective leads to a better understanding of the real impact of LSLA on the governance of the food system and consequently on food sovereignty and on women who are often most directly involved in the procuration and preparation of food. We argue that food systems share many attributes of common pool resources (CPR).
We analyze the changing governance structure of the local food system resulting from the development of LSLA through an institutional analysis of its core constitutive elements: production, processing, distribution and consumption. This raises interesting questions about the impacts of LSLA not only on individuals who produce, distribute and consume food, but also on local/regional decision-making processes concerning important public activities such as spatial development, infrastructure supply, land consolidation, etc. We claim that LSLA deeply modifies the balance of power among actors involved in the governance of the food system.
Relying on two case studies from Ghana and Peru, we discuss the hypothesis that the impact of LSLA on food sovereignty is twofold: first through the direct privatization of land and second through a reorganization of the governance of the food system.

Paper 2

Lanz Kristina / Institute of Social Anthropology, and Centre for Gender Studies, University of Bern, Switzerland

Inside a large-scale land acquisition: How gendered power asymmetries and resistance shape the implementation of a LSLA in Ghana’s Volta Region

Large-scale land acquisitions (LSLA’s) are not a new phenomenon in Ghana, since colonialism and before the country has been subject to several waves of large-scale land acquisitions, be it for cocoa, gold mining or more recently biofuels and agricultural export crops. These acquisitions take place in complex institutional settings marked by overlapping and often contradictory customary and state regulations.
Using data from a case study of a recent LSLA in Ghana’s Volta region, this paper will highlight how the entrance of an international agri-business (itself bound by various regulations from international funders) leads to power struggles between different “regulating authorities” (customary and state), as they try to (re)interpret the institutional setting in order to derive benefits from the investment. While these often non-place based traditional and state authorities have access to various sources of power (political, discursive, economic, violence and knowledge) and are thus able to strongly influence the implementation of LSLA, the various local land users are not passive and use a variety of gendered strategies to resist negative impacts and derive benefits from the investment.
I will thus argue that the actual implementation and impact of the investment on the ground, not only depends on the national, international and local rules and regulations and the way these are interpreted by investors, customary authorities and state authorities, but also on the various repertoires of resistance used by local land users, especially women to defend their own livelihoods and derive benefits from the investment.

Paper 3

Käser Fabian / Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Bern

Marfurt Franziska / Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Bern

Ethnography of a Land Grab and Gendered Coping Strategies in Northern Sierra Leone

Our ethnographic in-depth research on a Swiss-based bioenergy project in Sierra Leone generates well-documented data and provides insights into gendered access to land and wage employment.
In the area where the project is located, customary land tenure applies. Thereby, women are structurally discriminated since they are not entitled to own land. However, user rights grant women and non-landowning men access to land and associated resources. Following the investing development banks’ guidelines, the company considered the local customary law when implementing its project. Nevertheless, the company only consulted and compensated landowners although women and non-landowning men could previously benefit from acquired land as well. Moreover, the company’s policy to enhance employment possibilities for women is barely implemented, and only few local women are hired.
In order to cope with the transformed situation some women and non-landowning men continue to engage in subsistence farming on a reduced area of land. Others are involved in informal petty-trade or cooking food for the labourers whereby they subsidize the capitalist production of the company. In one village, women resisted additional land takes of the company. Acting within the framework of a specific power constellation on community level and simultaneously accommodating their claims within policy paradigms on transnational level, they were able to force a landowner to refuse leasing land to the company.

Paper 4

Schubiger Elisabeth / Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Bern

von Sury Anna / Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Bern

Growing Rice or Grabbing Swampy Lands? Gender Perspectives on the Dominion Farm Investment in West Kenya

In Kenya land is one of the most discussed subjects as agriculture builds the livelihood of 85% of the population. Large scale investments into land is a new phenomena in the Nyanza region in West Kenya as the arid climate and the low infrastructure did not seem attractive for investments for a long time. In 2003 an American investor leased an area covering 6’900 hectares of a swamp in order to grow rice based on the discourse to ensure the food security in the region.
The aim of the fieldwork was to understand the perception of the people affected by the project. The focus was on the various local interests and strategies (the horizontal level) and the identification of different actors and decision makers who implemented the project (the vertical level).
The analysis of the vertical level reveals that the implementation of the project was motivated by cultural and religious views of the investor and by political arguments. The implementation process is characterized by cultural insensitivity, which leads to various conflicts between the two different levels. On the horizontal level the project causes new conflicts over land, loss of resources such as grazing land and land for cultivation, which necessarily have changed the local livelihoods. This paper illustrates how gender relations are altered through the investment and how the company used narratives about gender relations to legitimise their project. However, the altered situation also generates opportunities to cope with the new environmental situation.

Paper 5

Bigler Christina / Centre for Gender Studies, University of Bern

Rwanda’s break-up to market oriented agriculture and its implication on gender

Good climate and topographical conditions make Rwanda’s agriculture sector a major player in the economic expansion and a key to sustainable development and improvement of small-scale farmers’ livelihoods. In recent years, non-traditional agricultural products, like fruit and vegetable have been introduced to the export market. The Rwandan government gives great attention to international and regional investors in commercial agricultural businesses, whilst establishing entrepreneur friendly conditions such as infrastructure, appropriate legislations and social policies. This transformation from subsistence oriented to market oriented agriculture production brings changes for women and men in small-scale framers household in rural Rwanda.
The main objective of this study is to examine if and under what conditions the market oriented agricultural industry leads to both increased asset building and individual well-being of women and men in rural households. An explanatory sequential-mixed-methods design will be used, and it will involve collection of quantitative results with in-depth qualitative data.
The first results indicate that constrains and opportunities from a market oriented agriculture production are not equal for women and men. The agriculture sector is highly gendered with women being overrepresented in low paid casual labour jobs and in primary production on farm level.

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