Faculty Director Smita Narula Addresses Cornell Conference on Land Grabs (Oct 17-19)
October 18, 2012

Faculty Director and Professor of Clinical Studies, Smita Narula, will be presenting her latest article at the 2012 Conference on Global Land Grabbing: An International Conference on Global Land Deals, being held from October 17-19, 2012 at Cornell University.  The conference is being co-organized by Cornell University’s Department of Development Sociology and the Land Deals Politics Initiative, in collaboration with the Journal of Peasant Studies.

Professor Narula will be presenting her article “The Global Land Rush: Markets, Rights, and the Politics of Food.”

Article Abstract

Across the developing world, ownership and use of agricultural land is changing hands at an astounding rate.  Rural communities engaged in subsistence or pastoral farming are, in many cases, being pushed out in favor of large-scale investors.  These investors are responding to a variety of global forces: some are securing their own food supply while others are capitalizing on land as an increasingly promising source of financial returns.  Proponents argue that these investments can support economic development in host States while boosting global food production.  But critics charge that these “land grabs” violate a number of human rights and will aggravate food and energy crises.  Amidst mounting global protest, two dominant frameworks have emerged to assess and contest the global rush for agricultural land.  This Article critically assesses both approaches. 

Part I provides an overview of the drivers and impacts of large-scale land transfers, and the problematic land transactions involved.  Part II sets out the contours of what Narula term the “market-plus” approach and of the rights-based approach—the frameworks assumed respectively by proponents and opponents of these deals.  Part III analyzes key differences in each framework’s approach to rights and risks, and to land distribution.  Part III also assesses the potential of each approach to effectively protect land users’ rights in light of the significant power dynamics at play.  Narula argues that the market-plus approach tolerates and facilitates rights violations and that the rights-based approach—though theoretically better suited to the task of protecting rights—struggles to implement its normative terms.  Part IV proposes concrete reforms to help empower affected communities and argues that international actors must be more involved in ensuring rights protections.  

For more information on the project behind the conference, please see:


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