Reevaluating large land deals in Ghana

Festus Boamah recently had an interesting piece at Democracy in Africa on “land grabbing” for large-scale biofuel production in Ghana.  He makes the valuable point that while there are poor farmers who are losing their land, the fault for this lies not only with the (mostly European and North American) companies which buy the land, but also with the chiefs who have the legal right to reallocate it:

Whereas Ghanaian governments used to negotiation the allocation of large land areas in the early post-independence era, Ghanaian chiefs have now taken on this role: an indication of the state’s waning authority over land. …

A recent paper published in Review of African Political Economy shows that the representation of biofuel investors as ‘land grabbers’ obscures the fact that land deals have been utilized by chiefs to re-establish their authority over stool land (i.e. land areas under the control of chiefs), formalizing the boundaries of stool land―which lack formal demarcations―and creating economic opportunities for village residents in their respective communities. Chiefs’ quests to formalize land boundaries was premised on the claim that migrant farmers often evade land rent payments, which threatens the authority of the institution of chieftancy…

The chief’s power to label certain areas of land as mfofoa – marginal land – was also crucial. Through these labels, chiefs could create the impression that jatropha projects were ‘pro poor’, and would work to the benefit of local citizens in biofuel project areas. Such maneuvers hide the damage done to the land use rights of many local citizens, and the value of land that could provide local households with goods such as oil palm fruits, mango fruits and firewood, forming an important part of the local agricultural production cycle.

File this in the broad category of research which points out that power disparities between rich and poor states are real, but goes on to challenge the assumption that this strips people in poor countries of any agency.

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