Opening of land in Gambela, Ethiopia.
Photo: Philipp Baumgartner


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The buying up of farmland by international investors is viewed highly critically. However, sweeping judgements could be inappropriate, as our author demonstrates with survey results from Ethiopia and Uganda.

Increased farmland transaction in Ethiopia and Uganda following the globally rising interest in acquiring farmland in 2008/2009 received considerable media attention. While not all media reports about foreign acquisitions were confirmed, and in both cases domestic investors accounted for the biggest number of deals, significant amounts of farmland have been rented by international investors for agricultural production (Baumgartner, 2012; Zeemeijer, 2012). These international acquisitions, often coined as “land grabs”, were criticised for violating local communities’ legitimate land use and ownership rights, causing environmental degradation and contributing to elite-capture and corruption. Yet, in-depth studies about socio-economic impacts confirm positive outcomes for a significant share of the local population (Väth, 2013; Herrmann & Grote, 2015; Baumgartner et al., 2015). In my analysis of two large investments producing rice for domestic and export markets in the western lowlands of Ethiopia (Gambela, Saudi Star) and in the east of Uganda (Bugiri, Tilda Rice), I examined the impacts of an early-stage investment as well as a more mature one (Baumgartner, 2016).

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