Land grabbing and its environmental justice implications
The past decade there has been an increase in the commodification of land to meet the demand for food and materials, resulting in land acquisitions by a wide range of actors, a process that is also known as land grabbing. This PhD project explores the social, political and environmental dynamics underlying the governance of land grabbing, and the environmental justice issues pertaining to land grabbing. These issues are researched in Argentina while focusing on land grabbing for the agricultural expansion, tree plantation expansion, and conservation initiatives. A multi-methods approach was used including document analysis, analysis of media reports, participant observation and in-depth interviews. In total, 70 in-depth interviews were conducted in Spanish with different type of actors including local people, social movement representatives, NGO employees, government officials, researchers, and company staff. Ten months were spent in the Provinces of Santiago del Estero and Corrientes in Argentina for fieldwork. Theoretically, this PhD project builds on four fields of study, namely that of land grabbing, political ecology, environmental justice and governance. Combing these fields helps to understanding the power dimensions of different actors, linking the broader multi-scalar socio-political dynamics, identifying in more detail the vulnerable groups that suffer the consequences of land grabbing, and exploring what land grabbing practices create local instances of injustice. Land grabbing severely disrupts the lives and livelihoods of local people and leads to the displacement of smallholders. The case studies of this PhD show that local communities are not sufficiently included in land grabbing practices. The vulnerable legal and social status of rural people make that they are disproportionately affected. Even if people are able to stay on the land, over time, land grabbing often makes it impossible for local communities to maintain a proper livelihood on the land, and consequently local people might be forced to lease or sell land to investors, facilitating land grabbing. Some other important empirical findings are that the arrival of foreign investors is not necessarily the main or only cause of the many social problems and conflicts observed in the deprived rural areas in Argentina. It is also the weak political system that plays a role. Moreover, the pre-existing injustices experienced by local communities are exacerbated by, and exacerbate, the impacts of land grabbing. Place-based specificities make that some people are hindered in resisting or in pro-actively organizing. Local people often consider the pre-existing injustices and other disadvantages to be more pressing to address than the immediate issues caused by current land use change. Social movements play a key role in addressing injustice and standing up for local communities. By empowering rural population and social movements they possibly can make some difference in addressing the negative implications of land grabbing. Nevertheless, these actors operate in a space of ongoing tension between global forces, political power plays, and stakeholder struggles, making it difficult for them to achieve radical changes.