25, June, 2014

Land Grabbing in Latin America: Opportunity or Threat?

In Latin America, government interventions in land grabbing processes provide some preliminary lessons on dealing with this phenomenon, while highlighting some serious threats.

This ELLA Brief presents cases of land grabbing in Latin America and explores the controversy around this phenomenon. It reviews the causes and characteristics of land grabbing around the world and specifies the ways in which land grabbing in Latin America differs from typical scenarios in Africa and Asia. In particular, this Brief explains the history behind land grabbing for soybean production in the so-called Soybean Republic (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) and examines the strategies employed by the Argentine and Brazilian governments to capitalise on economic  opportunities presented by the current boom in this sector. The Brief also presents some initial policy responses that are intended to improve state control over foreign land purchases. Finally, it identifies the main enabling factors behind this process and summarises some key policy lessons.

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Key Lessons:

  • Land grabbing is a global phenomenon, yet it is also context specific. Public policy must be based on an understanding of the characteristics and dynamics of land grabs at different scales – national, regional and global – in order that this trend can lead to sustainable economic benefits and poverty reduction.
  • Restricting land ownership can control land foreignisation without limiting the potential of the host nation to generate revenue from consolidation processes. This policy is proving to be particularly effective where backed by public investment in research and development.
  • Latin American experience shows that the effectiveness of state intervention in controlling land grabs depends on two main factors: domestic and regional political power and institutional capacity to regulate land transactions and control the agricultural sector.

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