Large - Scale Land Acquisitions and Gender in Africa: The Impact of Institutional Change and Land Investments on Gender Relations and Food Security

SNSF - Project October 2014-2017 (4 PhDs)


  • Lead Prof. Dr. Tobias Haller, Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Bern
  • Co-lead: Prof. Dr. Jean-David Gerber (Institute of Geography, University of Bern
  • In collaboration with Swiss TPH (Dr. Sonja Merten) and Centre for Gender Studies (Prof. Sabine Strasser, Institute of Social Anthropology and Center for Gender Studies, University of Bern)

This research project aims to shed light on a notorious black box in the work on Large Scale Land Acquisitions (LSLA) and gender studies: it looks comparatively at gender relations and their chang
es under the new wave of LSLA, that follow after previous institutional changes in land tenure and access in Africa. The project includes cases of Northern (Morocco), Western (Ghana), Eastern (Tanzania) and Central Africa (not yet defined, possibly Zambia) .
These cases also reflect similarities as well as differences among LSLA configurations as the project discusses cases of direct external investments with and without direct labour involvement of local people (two cases with no involvement, two cases with workers or contract farmers). In addition, we focus on the food status of households in the project areas trying to find answers on the impact LSLA’s have on food security.
The project is based on collaboration between the Institute of Social Anthropology and Institute of Geography,
University of Bern (Profs. Tobias Haller and Jean-David Gerber) and The Swiss Tropical Public Health Institute
in Basel (Dr. Sonja Merten) and the Centre for Gender studies (Prof. Sabine Strasser).
Despite the fact that the importance of looking closely at gender relations has been highlighted since the issue of „Land Grabbing“ became important in academia and for NGOs (i.e. Behrmann 2011), there are very few case studies on the issue. In early 2013 FAO published technical guidelines for gender equity in the context of LSLA, related to the so-called Mainstreaming of Gender Equity and related to the MDGs. The guide aims to illustrate principles for gender equal participation and communication in land related issues, and it highlights that the focus needs to go beyond narrow gender issues and that governance and institutional issues, including legal state and customary issues (i.e. access and inheritance), need to be analysed. Interestingly however, most studies do not contextualize gender power relations and institutional change enough in this context. This is the gab this research project tries to fill. It shall show first how LSLA impacts existing power constellations governing access to land, including to so-called common pool resources.
Second, it also discusses the impacts of LSLA on gender shaped labour division issues and related distributional effects regarding food security. These effects are related to kinship and lineage systems and general membership issues again linked to their martial status in African contexts. The study thus aims to identify the scope and scale for action in already historically transformed genderrelationships that are now in addition being challenged under the context of LSLA.
Theoretically the project adopts a New Institutionalism perspective in social anthropology (see Ensminger 1992, Haller ed. 2010) that focuses on an actor-oriented approach. The model discusses how external factors
(economy, legal context, natural environment, immigration and technological change) shape an local setting
including issues of bargaining power of actors and ideologies of gender relations shaping then again institutional choice of actors for access to and distributional effects for resources. The project further tries
to combine the discussion on institutional innovations, coercion and opportunities with power issues related to what had been discussed in the 1980s and 90s as a Neo-Marxist approach (see also Meillassoux 1983). This approach can stimulate the discussion on Gender and LSLA in a very productive way as it looks on household labour relations (for reproduction and care) and links this to the debate regarding access to land and related common pool resources from a New Institutionalist’s perspective. It also incl
udes emic perceptions of men and women in the context of newly organizing gender relations after several social and institutional changes since the colonial times and will be linked to the status of food security