Small-scale land acquisitions, large-scale implications: The case of Chinese banana investments in Northern Laos

In the context of the ‘global land grab’, the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic has been identified as a hotspot for large-scale land acquisitions sought by capital strong foreign investors. However, in the rapidly commercialising agrarian landscape of northern Laos, other and more subtle forms of land acquisitions are also taking place. These are mainly pursued by smaller companies and private investors promoting cash-crops in contract-farming arrangements or renting agricultural land from farmers on short-term contracts; often with little or no initial involvement of the government actors. This paper investigates such ‘small-scale’ land acquisitions in relation to the recent boom in banana investments in Long District, Luang Namtha Province. Here, banana investments have increased rapidly since 2008-9 with Chinese investors establishing plantations on land rented for 3 to 6 years in the easily accessible and fertile lowland areas along the main district road. Taking point of departure in the experiences of a small minority community in Long District, where two different banana investors established plantations in 2011, the paper focus on the network of actors involved in bringing about banana investments, the strategies employed by investors for gaining access to land, and the agrarian transformations that follows in relation to local agricultural production. The paper is based on data collected through fieldwork in Laos in April-May and August-December 2014 using semi-structured and group interviews, informal conversations, participant observation, and household questionnaires. Two aspects of this study contribute to the ongoing discussion in the ‘global land grab’ debate. Firstly, the results show that despite the small scale of the investments and the short term contracts, the actual land use transformation induced by the plantations represent a strong alienation of land. Secondly, the analysis reveals how the banana investors, circumventing government actors, establish a network of local land brokers and middlemen, relying on personal relationships and ‘snowballing’ techniques to identify suitable land areas and facilitate negotiations over land directly with farmers. Furthermore, the investors employ the full range of ‘powers of exclusion’ (Hall et al., 2011) to gain control over the land. Thus, while these ‘small-scale’ land acquisitions might appear to represent a less dramatic enclosure than long-term and large-scale concessions, the contractual arrangements and the land use conversion they entail have significant implications for changing access to resources, land and general livelihood opportunities for the local communities involved.

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Additional Info

Field Value
Document type Conference/workshop proceedings and presentations
Language of document
  • English
Topics
  • Agricultural management systems and technologies
  • Foreign investors
  • Land transfers
  • Livelihood rights
Geographic area (spatial range)
  • Lao People's Democratic Republic
Province(s)
  • Luangnamtha
Copyright No
Access and use constraints

No copyright specified

Version / Edition Conference Paper No. 36
License CC-BY-3.0-IGO
Contact

RCSD Chiang Mai University  Faculty of Social Sciences, Chiang Mai University Chiang Mai 50200 THAILAND Tel. 66­53­943595/6 | Fax. 66­53­893279 Email : rcsd@cmu.ac.th | Website : http://rcsd.soc.cmu.ac.th

Author (individual) Cecilie Friis
Publication place Chiang Mai, Thailand
Publisher The Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development
Publication date 2015
Pagination 21
Keywords land grabbing,control grabbing,intentionality,powers of exclusion
Date uploaded January 3, 2018, 17:09 (UTC)
Date modified January 22, 2018, 00:30 (UTC)