In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section International Land Grabbing

  • Introduction
  • Definition
  • Special Issues
  • Green Grabbing
  • Social Impacts
  • Land Grabbing and Agricultural Development
  • Political Economy of Large-Scale Land Acquisitions

Environmental Science International Land Grabbing
Paolo D'Odorico, M. Cristina Rulli
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 November 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199363445-0013


In recent years, some food crises have threatened food security worldwide. These episodes were induced by extreme climate events occurring in periods of unprecedented worldwide pressure on agricultural land due to new bioenergy policies, changes in diets, and demographic growth. To curb the associated escalation in food prices, the governments of some major crop-producing countries have banned or limited their exports, thereby generating food insecurity in many trade-dependent nations. As a result, investors saw in agriculture new business opportunities, while some governments started to secure a more direct access to agricultural land. Therefore, public corporations, agribusiness investors, and speculators started to acquire productive and relatively cheap agricultural land, particularly in the developing world.


Land grabbing has been defined as “as acquisitions or concessions that are one or more of the following: (i) in violation of human rights, particularly the equal rights of women; (ii) not based on free, prior and informed consent of the affected land-users; (iii) not based on a thorough assessment, or are in disregard of social, economic and environmental impacts, including the way they are gendered; (iv) not based on transparent contracts that specify clear and binding commitments about activities, employment and benefits sharing, and; (v) not based on effective democratic planning, independent oversight and meaningful participation” (The Tirana Declaration: International Land Coalition 2011). The term “land grabbing” was likely coined by the popular media and then used in peer-reviewed journals, UN reports, and “grey literature.” Some scholars, however, have recently started to shun this “charged” expression because it stresses the negative aspects of the phenomenon. Its usage could give the impression of implicitly taking one side in the “land grab” debate before having even discussed the different views. Thus terms such as “land rush,” “large scale land deals,” or “large land acquisitions” are often preferred. This does not exclude the fact that many of these acquisitions might constitute real “grabs” in the sense of the Tirana Declaration (International Land Coalition 2011). Polemics about “politically correct” ways to refer to this phenomenon, however, may easily turn into a sterile discussion among scholars and distract their readership from the real issues at stake.

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