As pressure on the limited resource of land (and what lies beneath it) continues to grow, 'land grabs' are becoming more common. Although the same emotive term is applied to many types of 'land deals', the reality is that they differ greatly in who carries them out, who they affect (and how), and whether or not (and how) they are resisted.
Writing in a special issue of Third World Quarterly dedicated to the study of 'Global Land Grabs', Saturnino M. Borras Jr and Jennifer C. Franco focus on reactions to land grabs -- broadly classified as struggles against dispossession/expulsion, exploitation and land concentration -- from those 'below'.
"The key point is that it is not useful to casually claim that conflicts around current land deals are either just between 'local communities' and foreign companies, or between 'local communities' and the central government," they write. "The configuration of actors and the intersections, character and trajectory of political contestations are far more diverse and complex than casual claims in the current media and popular literature on land deals would suggest."
At least three "intersections of political contestations within and between the state and social forces" play a part in land grabs: poor people versus corporate actors, poor people versus the state, and poor people versus poor people.
Even within that framework, the effects of land grabs vary dramatically. Sometimes people lose access to their land; sometimes they don't. 'Local communities' which were assumed to have common interests turn out not to, leading to uneven or divided responses. Economic, political and social factors affect how the consequences of land deals are actually felt, as do gender and ethnicity. And sometimes populations with no direct link to the land get involved, as do those who have only ancestral claims, come from neighbouring villages or are, in fact, landless.
"In short, the individual and collective political reactions of people and peoples affected by land deals cannot be taken for granted."
Using evidence from several countries, including the Philippines, Mozambique and Cambodia, the authors discuss recent land grabs, the reactions and their consequences. They also investigate why some groups fail or refuse to mobilise against the grabs, as well as why some succeed in their resistance.
Barras and Franco feel strongly that the level of interest in land grabbing among the media, policy makers, civil-society organisations and academics should remain high, so that the varied political reactions among those affected by land grabs become better understood. This article, and the special issue as a whole, should help that happen.
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