P040 – Large Scale Land and Water Acquisitions in East Africa: Opportunity, Opposition and Oppression?
8 July, 14:00-15:30

Terje Oestigaard / The Nordic Africa Institute


This panel will address parts of the large scale land and water acquisitions taking place in East Africa. Variously called ‘land investments,’ ‘land acquisitions’ or ‘land grabbings’, the extent of these deals is uncertain and estimates vary widely. There is also a huge discrepancy between the extent of planned and operational investments. Behind every land deal there are also water acquisitions or water grabs. There is, however, a misconception that plenty of unused land and water exists in Africa. For the purposes of agriculture and food production at both small and large scale, water, together with fertile land, will be the major limiting factors in the future. Consequently, investors have concentrated on water sources and on fertile lands in the hope of reaping rewards from the plentiful cash crops. In many cases, there is a close link between land investments and dams for irrigation. While governments and investors often highlight a ‘win-win’ discourse benefitting all stakeholders, smallholder farmers included, empirical studies most often point to the contrary. Thus, this panel will discuss large scale investments in land and water with an emphasis on the dialectics and mutual existing opportunities, oppressions and oppositions by different actors in these processes.

Les acquisitions à grande échelle de terre et d’eau en Afrique de l’Est: possibilité, opposition et oppression ?
Ce panel aborde des questions liées aux acquisitions de terre et d’eau à grande échelle qui se multiplient à présent en Afrique de l’Est. L’étendue réelle de ces affaires, diversement connues sous les noms d’« investissements fonciers », d’« acquisitions de terre » et d’« accaparement des terres », reste encore mal connue ; les estimations varient énormément. De plus, il existe un écart important entre investissements prévus et investissements opérationnels. Derrière chaque transaction foncière se trouvent des acquisitions – ou des accaparements – d’eau. Cependant, il existe une idée fausse selon laquelle l’Afrique possède de larges étendues de terre et d’eau inutilisées. Pour l’agriculture et la production alimentaire, que ce soit à grande ou à petite échelle, l’eau et les terres fertiles constitueront dans le futur les principaux facteurs limitants. Par conséquent, les investisseurs ciblent les sources d’eau et les terres fertiles promettant des cultures commerciales importantes. Dans de nombreux cas, il existe un lien étroit entre les investissements fonciers et les barrages d’irrigation. Bien que ces affaires soient souvent présentées par les gouvernements comme bénéfiques pour toutes les parties prenantes, les agriculteurs de petite échelle incluses, les études empiriques indiquent dans la plupart des cas le contraire. Ce panel discutera donc les investissements de terre et d’eau à grande échelle, en mettant l’emphase surtout sur la dialectique et sur les possibilités communes, les oppressions et les oppositions des différents acteurs du processus.

Paper 1

Stein Howard / University of Michigan

Cunningham Sam / University of Michigan

Formalization and Land Grabbing in East Africa: Facilitation or Protection?

Two developments in Africa have generated an extensive literature. The first focuses on investment and land grabbing and the second on the formalization of rural property rights. Less has been written on the impact of formalization on land grabbing and land grabbing on formalization. Recently, formalization has been put forward to protect the rights of pastoralists and farmers. Leaders in Tanzania have argued that it will free up land for investors that is unused by villages and generate new jobs and improved livelihoods through contract farming while minimizing land grabbing through greater transparency. Others argue that formalization is being promoted to facilitate land grabbing with state imposed boundaries facilitating land grabbing by evicting villagers off land formerly under village control. Proponents assume that securing individual property rights will allow villagers to determine how to best use or dispose of their property. However, this implied notion of voluntarism can deny the hegemonic forces that can be embedded in markets. Unequal power dynamics in market transactions can transform formalization from a protective force to a means of dispossession. Former commonly-held land in places like Kenya has been individualized, easing the sale and leasing of land to investors at the expense of pastoralists. The paper will draw on five year project on titling in Tanzania to analyze the political economy of formalization and land grabbing in African countries.

Paper 2

Engström Linda / Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala

Seeing like a transnational state – investigating the relevance of Scott to explain the failure of large scale agricultural investment in Tanzania

This paper seeks to situate contemporary large scale agricultural development in the debate on the relevance of James Scott’s analysis of failure. The question posed is whether the ‘simplified seeing’ behind failed schemes during the 20th Century described in Scott’s book Seeing Like a State (1998) is applicable to explain the failure and struggle of contemporary large scale agricultural investment in Tanzania. By developing a coherent framework of the simplified ‘way of seeing’ described by Scott, the paper shows that there are striking similarities with the contemporary narrative on large scale agricultural investment. Using the simplification framework, this paper goes on to discuss the more complex governance situation of contemporary large scale agriculture, engaging in more recent literature and critique against Scott’s claim to be relevant also in times of neoliberal capitalism. The paper argues that various actors converge with the state on similar patterns of ‘simplified seeing’, but that these actors have differing underlying motives. Based on empirical data from two large scale agricultural investments in Tanzania as well as interviews with Tanzanian state officials, two investors, one international development institution and one bilateral donor, the paper discusses possible developments of Scott to fit the empirical realities of contemporary LSAI.

Paper 3

Beyene Atakilte / Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala

Large-scale land acquisitions: a comparative analysis of governance systems between Ethiopia and Tanzania

Tanzania and Ethiopia are transferring extensive territorial resources to different actors including their own corporates, other sovereign states, and foreign and domestic private investors. Agricultural policies of both countries emphasize the need for external investment, modernization of the agricultural sector and the utilization of rural resources to achieve economic development. Much of this policy orientation, however, leans towards promoting export-oriented, large-scale and commercial agricultural systems. Large tracks of land and water basins have been transferred to domestic and foreign companies over the past few years. Recent studies on the current large-scale land and water acquisitions from both countries suggest that governance structures of, access to and control over natural resources are critical aspects of the transfers. This is despite the fact that both countries exhibit marked differences in their historical and contextual conditions of governance systems of their natural resources. While Tanzania has been appreciated for promoting and institutionalizing village and local levels of natural resources management and governance systems, Ethiopia on the other hand stands out as a country where the State plays dominant role in governance systems of natural resources. This paper aims to explore why, despite the marked differences in governance systems, some of the large-scale land and water acquisitions face similar challenges when implemented.

Paper 4

Kamski Benedikt / Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institute (University of Freiburg) & Dept. of Political Science & Int. Relations (Addis Ababa University)

The ‘Water-Mechanism’ of Agricultural Investments: Evidences from Ethiopia’s lower Omo Valley

The purpose of this contribution is to demonstrate the utility of a hydro-centered approach to analysing the regional externalities of large-scale land based investments for agriculture. We apply a multi-layered cause-effect analysis of social, political and environmental factors and particularly focus on the specific conditional variables of land investments for agriculture. Using the example of the Omo Kuraz Sugar Development Project in Ethiopia we posit that water resources are directly affected to different degrees in terms of water quality, reduced water availability and access to water sources. These hydro-externalities are referred to as water mechanism with varying temporal extent and geographical scope. Furthermore, indirect negative repercussions that can be linked to a set of conditional variables of land acquisition are debated. Three main sets of actions can be distinguished as: actions of endorsement that foster conflicting situations referred to as (–C), conflict preventing actions (+C) and actions that are not fully or not yet determinable (nC). We argue that key issues such as access restrictions, settlement policies, migration movements and agro-ecological interplays such as land use change and agricultural practices are key determinants that generate new conflict dynamics. The presentation draws on findings from extended field research conducted in Ethiopia’s lower Omo valley, the Turkana Region and the Ilemi Triangle in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Paper 5

Rutten Marcel / African Studies Centre Leiden

The Land-Water Nexus in semi-arid Kenya – water depletion as a result of land tenure changes

Water is a basic need and an important catalyst for accelerating economic development in semi-arid areas. With only two out of three people having access to improved water supplies, Africa has the lowest coverage of any region of the world. More so, beyond the focus of public attention, an unseen emergency is continuing to unfold due to competition over water, in particular in rural areas, because of a deepening globalisation of agricultural production, changes in land tenure and population growth. In the semi arid Kajiado region in southern Kenya water is depleted foremost as a result of newly introduced agricultural practices supplying cutflowers to western markets. The paper will elaborate the process of land tenure adaptations started in the late 1960s on instigation of FAO/World Bank under the Kenya Livestock Development Programme. From the mid-1980s the group ranches created started a process of subdivision into individual holdings making it a commodity available under a willing seller-willing buyer regime since then. The economic and environmental effects of these developments and the options to stop the destruction will be discussed in detail.

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