Just Released: Globalizations Special Issue on Global Land Grabs

Just released!

*Land Grabbing and Global Governance*
/*Globalizations*/, 10(1) February 2013
*Guest Editors: Matias E. Margulis, Nora McKeon & Saturnino M. Borras Jr.*

The issue on land grabbing and global governance contains 14 articles:
introductory essay, 8 original research articles and 5 review articles
of transnational instruments to regulate land grabs. The special issue
analyzes the recent global land rush from a global/transnational
perspective and takes into account the ever greater flows of capital,
goods, and ideas across borders and that these flows occur through axes
of power that are far more polycentric than the North-South imperialist
tradition. In addition, the special issue features contributions from
scholars and global civil society activists engaged in the present
global contests to regulate land grabs in an effort to co-produce and
mobilize knowledge. The contribution of the articles in this collection
to the broader scholarship on land grabbing is that it provides a
framework for analyzing land grabbing as concurrent struggle for control
over local pieces of land and transnational regulatory institutions.
*For FREE access to selected articles for a limited time, click:
Table of Contents
Land Grabbing and Global Governance: Critical Perspectives (introductory
Matias E. Margulis, Nora McKeon & Saturnino M. Borras Jr.
Land Grabs Today: Feeding the Disassembling of National Territory
Saskia Sassen
Land Grabbing as Security Mercantilism in International Relations
Philip McMichael
Governing the Global Land Grab: Multipolarity, Ideas and Complexity in
Transnational Governance
Matias E. Margulis & Tony Porter
Gulf States and the Governance of Agro-Investments
Eckart Woertz
“One Does Not Sell the Land Upon Which the People Walk”: Land Grabbing,
Rural Social Movements, and Global Governance
Nora McKeon
International Human Rights and Governing Land Grabbing: A View From
Global Civil Society
Rolf Künnemann & Sofía Monsalve Suárez
Certification Schemes and the Governance of Land: Enforcing Standards or
Enabling Scrutiny?
Elizabeth Fortin & Ben Richardson
The Challenge of Global Governance of Land Grabbing: Changing
International Agricultural Context and Competing Political Views and
Saturnino M. Borras Jr., Jennifer Franco & Chunyu Wang
Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land,
Fisheries and Forests
Philip Seufert
The Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment
Phoebe Stephens
The Minimum Human Rights Principles Applicable to Large-Scale Land
Acquisitions or Leases
Priscilla Claeys & Gaëtan Vanloqueren
Private Governance and Land Grabbing: The Equator Principles and
Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels
Ariane Goetz
Restrictions on Foreign Acquisitions of Agricultural Land in Argentina
and Brazil
Nicolás Marcelo Perrone

To be Expected: Faulty Land Matrix Database Goes Academic…

The well known journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has published an article about global land grabs and their implications for water usage.

The authors point out important issues around land investments like the potential disenfranchisement of customary land rights holders and excessive (green and blue) water use for export crops that could compromise domestic food security.

The article does not contain primary research, instead  it marches to the usual naive quantitative drumbeat of mainstream academia: first you need to have a “database,” then you build a “model” and then you come up with some life altering findings that common sense would have been unable to achieve. In this case they have found out that water scarce countries tend to look for water resources while investing in land.

The farmlandgrab blog of the NGO GRAIN that they are using is a great source of information if you take it for what it is: a comprehensive collection of media reports about land deals. The problem is that announced agro-projects are not necessarily agro-projects actually happening. There is a huge implementation gap.

The much touted Land Matrix database, which they use to cross check the GRAIN dataset, claimed to verify such media reports. Yet at its launch it included a lot of double entries and projects over millions of hectares that never materialized like those of South Korean Daewoo in Madagascar and Chinese ZTE in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Chinese investments in particular were misrepresented. In Sudan on the other hand the Land Matrix did not contain a single project of those that have seen some degree of realization in North Sudan, but it had  a flurry of land deals in South Sudan that never made it beyond the announcement stage (e.g. the one by self-stylized Cowboy/ Mafia head investor Phil Heilberg).

Unfortunately the Land Matrix did not publish the reliability codes that it attributed to deals after cross checking. A lot of the supposed “triangulation” seems to have been between various media reports: There is a press release, journalists jump on it, an NGO reports about it as well, and all over sudden one has “triangulation.” Thus, paper deals and mere declarations of intent become projects for real. The clueless academics use it for their studies, which are then taken up again by equally clueless journalists and the news cycle closes.

The Land Matrix team has reacted to criticism. It has taken some of the paper projects off the database and is “currently developing a completely new data management system behind the interface.” Thus the database might improve over time.

Yet at its inception and when the PNAS article was written in May 2012 the Land Matrix gave a highly misleading picture about the extent of land grabs. The PNAS article is evidently unaware of criticism of the LM database. “Failed and unverified deals are not included in the Land Matrix database,” it claims. Then it continues with a nice euphemism, saying that the data might have  a “few biases resulting from the lack of transparency”……

Unsurprisingly the PNAS article dishes out outlandish figures, claiming that over 17 percent of the land area and nearly half of the cultivated area of the Philippines has been grabbed by foreign investors. During a visit of mine to the south of the Philippines in 2010 none of the announced ago-investments had gotten off the ground. Forthcoming field research by Gerben Nooteboom and Rosanne Rutten of the University of Amsterdam deals with land use change and the implementation gap of foreign agro-investments in the Philippines and Indonesia. The numbers for the UAE and Israel in the PNAS article are also out of touch with reality.

This is not to say that land grabs are not happening – especially on a national level between nationals, not necessarily foreigners. They are also problematic, but the continuous hyping of large and unverified figures does a disservice to the important issues that are at stake. A more sober debate is needed that takes stock of different quantities, but also of the need for agricultural investments and how they might be undertaken in a way that could lead to different qualities. The Manichean picture of neo-colonialism on the one hand and romanticized subsistence farming on the other is just too simple.

On a more general plane I grow increasingly bored with the mathematical fetish in social sciences. The economists pretend to practice hard science like physics, even though they are closer to theology with their axiomatic and ahistoric belief in homo economicus.

Yet everybody wants to be like them now: Whether it is political scientists, sociologists or psychologists. They start out with a boring question and a “database”, then follows a lengthy mathematical “proof” in the middle and at the end they come up with silly answers and unsurprising correlations, right at a point where the real questions should begin. It is like those medieval scholastics debating how many angels can sit on the pin of a needle.

It is high time that the social sciences regain their critical faculties and say that the king of economics is naked. After all economists did not have the slightest clue ahead of the global financial crisis as far as their orthodoxy is concerned.  And no, it was not just the databases or the models that were wrong, but the basic assumptions of the profession.