ESR Project 7

Land and Environmental Security: Consequences of Large-Scale Investments in Land in Southern or Eastern Africa

Supervisors Knut G. Nustad (University of Oslo) and Michael Eilenberg (Aarhus University)

The recent large-scale land acquisitions by non-local actors, variously labelled ‘the global land rush,’ or ‘land grabbing,’ affects many people in the global south. In Africa, land acquisition by foreign investors for biofuel production and cash-crop farming for export has received the most attention, but lately alienation of land for conservation purposes has been documented as well.

The political economy of these processes is well covered in the literature, but recently scholars such as Tania Li have shifted focus to the processes involved in transforming land from livelihoods to capitalist objects of investment. In other words, what is land and what processes render it investable? This also raises the question of the human security of the people affected by this transformation. Often lacking formal titles to land, the rendering of land as investible tends to render its former inhabitants as poachers or trespassers.

This PhD project seeks to the explore the double move involved in making land investable or as conserved ‘nature’ and hence alienable, and rendering former inhabitants illegitimate with special attention to the human security of the people affected by these processes. Projects could build on case studies involving either land acquisition for agriculture, biofuel or conservation, and either focus on one case in depth or be comparative.

The project will be based on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in one or two areas. It will include 3 months of secondment to a non-academic institution working with relevant issues; the Wits School of Governance will be one potential local partner for this project.