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Large-scale land acquisitions in Africa

Tree planting

Ensuring a just deal for communities 

Africa has seen a wave of large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) in recent years. While agricultural investment has been promoted as a strategy for growth and development, when poorly governed, these large land deals risk dispossessing people in rural communities and sparking conflict. Women, low income groups, and those without formal land title are among the most vulnerable.

Since 2012, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) has been supporting research on LSLAs in sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers are working with communities to increase their ability to protect their rights.

Land deals in Africa: What’s at stake?

Early findings from research on large-scale land acquisitions in Africa point to five key cross-cutting issues:

  • Uneven community impacts
  • Low levels of public awareness and participation
  • The need for fair compensation
  • Unclear and insecure tenure rights
  • Erosion of women’s rights

This brief highlights five cross-cutting issues that have emerged from ongoing research. These observations and early findings may inform current global debates about how to ensure that large-scale land deals are just and equitable for those affected. 

Tree planting

Understanding and mediating competing community interests

Large land deals affect community members in different ways, depending on their age, gender, ethnicity, social status, and other factors. Women, youth, and the poorest community members often receive less compensation for land than men and local elites.
The Kiwanjani Location Chief takes researchers on a site visit to Isiolo Airport, Kenya

Improving awareness and participation

Communities are often left in the dark about decisions regarding land and natural resources that will have profound effects on them. In some cases, the very process of decision-making is unclear, and there are few channels and opportunities for public participation.
Group meeting in Lamu, Kenya

Addressing inadequate compensation

LSLAs raise a number of concerns regarding compensation, including how land is valued, how affected communities are compensated, and how the risks and benefits resulting from land deals are shared between investors, the state, and those affected.
A participant contributes to a focus group discussion in Siaya County, Kenya

Clarifying tenure rights

In postcolonial Africa, formal legal frameworks coexist with traditional land governance. Where formal laws and rules do not protect customary tenure and usage rights, tensions can arise over who has legitimate control over lands. Tenure rights are also undermined by gaps and weaknesses in legal frameworks, and by a failure to implement or enforce them.
A woman carrying wood in Ndian, Cameroon

Protecting women’s rights

Despite the role they play in food security and livelihoods, African women have traditionally not had equal access to land or legal protections. This inferior access is now being further eroded by opaque governance processes related to LSLAs and their exclusion from decision-making.