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  • Africa’s Land Rush: Rural Livelihoods and Agrarian Change ed. by Ruth Hall, Ian Scoones, Dzodzi Tsikata
  • Kelly M. Askew
Ruth Hall, Ian Scoones, and Dzodzi Tsikata, eds. Africa’s Land Rush: Rural Livelihoods and Agrarian Change. Woodbridge, Suffolk, U.K.: James Currey, 2015. xx + 204 pp. Maps. Tables. Figures. Bibliography. Index. Paper. $34.95. ISBN: 978-1-84701-130-5.

Despite all the writing produced to date on large-scale land investments in Africa and elsewhere, there has been a great need for the detailed case study approach and the kind of integrated, informed assessment presented in this collection, Africa’s Land Rush. Hall, Scoones, and Tsikata have compiled a set of equally rigorous analyses of large land deals across eight nations: Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, and Republic of Congo. The authors, most of whom are based on the continent, carefully review for each country the political economy, historical context, and legislative framework of land transactions, and then analyze specific investments, examining the role of the state and international actors, local elites, investors, host communities, and vulnerable populations, including small-holder farmers, pastoralists, hunter-gatherers, women, [End Page 250] and youth. Although internal dynamics vary, discernable and somewhat predictable patterns prevail across many of these cases. These are probed in an incisive and comprehensive introduction by the editors, who question the restructuring effects these investments—whether failed or successful—are having on agrarian livelihoods in Africa.

The global land grab debate features one side valorizing the efficiencies of industrial agribusiness, and the other condemning resulting land alienation and disenfranchisement of African smallholder farmers and pastoralists. Yet as these authors show, contingencies and variables produce a spectrum of results not reducible to one or the other of these popular positions. Herein lies the value of this volume. Since transactions are often intentionally nontransparent, all the authors spent time on the ground collecting data through interview-heavy mixed methods. Differences and similarities across the case studies are revealed in a chart summarizing the key players (investors, level of state involvement), business models (plantation, nucleus + outgrowers, family farms), amount of land transacted (1,250–200,000 ha.), terms of transaction (25–99–year leases), prior status of the land transacted (customary land tenure, former investment, state farm/ranch), number of people displaced (0–25,000), post-investment land use (dairy farming, food crop production, biofuel production, ranching), and water access. Investments that can be viewed as somewhat successful (e.g., South African/British Illovu sugar estates in Tanzania and Mozambique) appear besides unqualified failures (e.g., biofuel investments in Ghana and Kenya, South African agricultural ventures in Nigeria and Congo, an Indian agricultural deal in Ethiopia).

The editors and authors seek answers to the following questions: Do large-scale investments benefit local communities through job creation and technology transfer as promised? Who benefits and who loses out? Are those who lose their land to make way for investors provided the chance to give free, prior, and informed consent? And are they compensated? Is production increased after the deals and are domestic or foreign markets targeted for their products? To what extent do foreign investors or the state finance the investment? Do these deals cause increased social differentiation and conflict? Do they adversely impact local food insecurity? When and how do local elites capture and monopolize benefits? Do nucleus/outgrower schemes yield greater local benefit?

In case after case, we find confirmation of many of the concerns raised by opponents of the land rush. Few jobs appear to be created, and when they are, it is not locals who typically are hired. In one egregious example from Ethiopia, 85.1 percent of an estate’s workforce was hired from outside the region and only 14.9 percent from the villages hosting it. Technology transfer proves to be an illusory promise since, as the editors point out, “the capital-intensive monoculture plantation business model . . . is a production system incompatible with smallholder farming in that it uses technologies that cannot easily be adopted by local farmers because of costs and differences in the scale of operations. Also, the cash crops that are grown [End Page 251] on commercial farms are...


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