Across Africa and the developing world, a new global land rush is gobbling up large expanses of arable land. Despite their ageless traditions, stunned villagers are discovering that African governments typically own their land and have been leasing it, often at bargain prices, to private investors and foreign governments for decades to come.
Organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank say the practice, if done equitably, could help feed the growing global population by introducing large-scale commercial farming to places without it.
But others condemn the deals as neocolonial land grabs that destroy villages, uproot tens of thousands of farmers and create a volatile mass of landless poor. Making matters worse, they contend, much of the food is bound for wealthier nations. [….]
My comment to Professor Clowney’s post follows, as well as some further remarks:
This painfully illustrates one of the downsides of capitalist globalization (facilitated by the political powers-that-be: from the State downward). In India, activists (notably, but not only, those on the Left, including Communists) have resurrected the Gandhian notion of gram rajya (village autonomy or rural democracy) to fight such land grabs (with varying degrees of success).* Of course this concept was, with Gandhi, part and parcel of other “Euclidean” constructs or utopian concepts (swaraj, swadeshi, sarvodaya, satyagraha, ahimsa, etc.), some of which are completely forgotten or ignored today.
This is also a reminder of the fact that in the so-called developing countries or emerging polities (with regard to common processes of ‘modernization,’ democratization and integration into the global economy), spatially localized resources
“are frequently neither private property nor state property, but common property. In poor countries communal property rights to resources are often based on custom and tradition; they aren’t backed by the kinds of deeds that could pass scrutiny in courts of law. [....] In poor countries the local commons include grazing lands, threshing grounds, swidden fallows, inland and coastal fisheries, rivers and canals, woodland forests, village tanks, and ponds. Being spatially localized, their use can be monitored by members of the community. [....] Communal property rights enable members of a group to reduce individual risks by pooling their risks. Moreover, the incentive to pool risks that are associated with the use of any particular resource depends on the other risks people face, it depends on their remaining sources of income, on transaction possibilities in other spheres of life, and so forth.”
Finally, these are exquisite examples of the various means used to facilitate and sustain cooperation and non-market interactions outside the legal power of the State. Alas (at least in the short-term; relatedly, this may be a case of taking one step backwards in order to take two steps forward—which is not a normative policy endorsement of this strategy), the growth of modern markets in these countries often has “an adverse effect of the functioning of a local, non-market institution,” prompting, for instance, the weakening of prevailing social norms (e.g., of reciprocity, authority, and trust) which, in turn, leads to the precipitous deterioration of communal management systems: one reason why “free trade” simpliciter sans consideration for those who are vulnerable to the (inevitable?) erosion of communitarian practices is ethically disturbing and defective economic and political policy.
**Partha Dasgupta, Human Well-Being and the Natural Environment. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
- Bardhan, Pranab. Scarcity, Conflicts, and Cooperation: Essays in the Political and Institutional Economics of Development. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005.
- Bardhan, Pranab, Samuel Bowles, and Michael Wallerstein, eds. Globalization and Egalitarian Redistribution. New York: Russell Sage Foundation/Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006.
- Basu, Kaushik. Prelude to Political Economy: A Study of the Social and Political Foundations of Economics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
- Bhala, Raj. Trade, Development and Social Justice. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2003.
- Brock, Gillian. Global Justice: A Cosmopolitan Account. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
- Cottier, Thomas, Joost Pauwelyn, and Elisabeth Bürgi, eds. Human Rights and International Trade. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
- Held, David and Anthony McGrew. Globalization /Anti-Globalization: Beyond the Great Divide. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2007.
- Iyer, Raghavan. The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi. Santa Barbara, CA: Concord Grove Press, 2nd ed., 1983 (1st ed., Oxford University Press, 1973).
- Macy, Joanna. Dharma and Development: Religion as Resource in the Sarvodaya Self-Help Movement. West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press, revised ed., 1985.
- Sen, Amartya. Development as Freedom. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.
- Unger, Roberto Mangabeira. Free Trade Reimagined: The World Division of Labor and the Method of Economics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.
[cross-posted at ReligiousLeftLaw.com]