This week 200 delegates assemble in Chiang Mai in Thailand for a major conference on land grabbing, conflict and agrarian-environment transformations in southeast Asia. It is co-organised by the Land Deal Politics Initiative (LDPI), a research network co-founded by the Future Agricultures Consortium. The conference marks the next step in this work, aiming to locate debates about land investment and agricultural commercialisation in regional contexts. Southeast Asia has been a focus of the global land rush in the period since the financial-food-energy crisis of 2008, but as elsewhere the dynamics of transformation have evolved in ways that are more complex than the original ‘land grab’ rhetoric.
Due to changes in commodity prices, challenges of infrastructure and investment and shifts in public and policy opinion, large-scale grabs have been less frequent than the ‘multiple pin pricks’ of changes in land use and ownership that have occurred as the new hubs of capital – in the southeast Asia case dominated by China – assert their influence in agrarian systems.
The conference website has 68 papers already posted, and there are expected to be around 100 presentations on all dimensions of land and environmental change in the region at the event.
Another new set of resources comes in a special issue of the Journal of Peasant Studies (JPS) on land grabbing and ‘politics from below’. This emerged from the LDPI conference at Cornell a few years back. The collection documents the varied forms of resistance – active and more passive – that have occurred, and how this is refracted through local political dynamics. The special issue is free to download through a special link, which is available for the coming months. Among papers from Mexico, Guatemala, Ethiopia and Mozambique, there is an excellent paper from IDS PhD student, Mathilde Gingembre, on her work in Madagascar.
The themes of land and agrarian struggle are continued in two further JPS special issues that marked the journal’s 40th anniversary, and most articles are again free to download. As the journal with the top ‘impact factor’ in development studies and anthropology, it is increasingly seen as one of the key journals for debates on agrarian change. The anniversary issues include a series of new articles reflecting on new directions in agrarian political economy, as well as a dedicated issue on the controversial debates surrounding approaches to food sovereignty. IDS Fellow Naomi Hossein has a co-authored piece on moral economy in the context of the global food crisis.
Finally, advance notice for anyone with a particular interest in Africa, the book Africa’s Land Rush: Rural Livelihoods and Agrarian Change, edited by Ruth Hall, Ian Scoones and Dzodzi Tsikata,, will be out in a month or so, and includes chapters by African researchers from seven different countries. The research was carried out as part of the land theme of the Future Agricultures Consortium. It is published by James Currey in the African Issues series, and is available for advance order.
The ‘land grab’ debate continues to evolve. Unlike when we held the first LDPI-convened international land grab conference at IDS in 2011, today there is much more empirical data, as witnessed by the veritable explosion of publications (what Carlos Oya calls the literature rush). This allows a more balanced assessment, and one that can differentiate patterns regionally, across types of agroecologies and crop types, and in relation to different forms of investment. Several years on, a different dynamic is evident, with a focus on the dynamics of agrarian capital, from diverse sources, on agricultural commercialisation, land dispossession and forms of conflict and resistance.
Image: Boy Dominiguez for Journal of Peasant Studies special issue ‘Political Reactions from Below’.