Land Grabs: The Political Ecology of the Construction and Production of Potential Areas for Land Investments in Gambella, Ethiopia



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In recent years, countries in the Global South have experienced a significant increase in the concession of large tracts of land by domestic and transnational companies, as well as governments, primarily for the production and export of food and biofuels. The rush for farmland has revitalized academic and policy discussions on fundamental and complex aspects of customary land rights in rural areas and state intervention. The critical academic literature that responds to this emerging phenomenon has emphasized the importance of examining underlying sociopolitical dynamics in areas where the phenomenon is prevalent. To contribute to this line of research, I carried out cross-sectional fieldwork in urban and rural settings in Gambella and the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in July and August 2012. I used qualitative research methods such as interviews and focus groups to document narratives explaining, rationalizing, and justifying contemporary transformations of property relations and land rights. My findings underscore the complex dynamics involved in constructing and producing potential areas for agricultural investments. I argue that, through the construction of land as an abundant resource and indigenous groups as inefficient users, the state justifies intervening into the area in order to use the land economically.



land grabs, property relations, customary land rights, land tenure, state intervention, property relations, narratives, political ecology, state intervention