Rethinking Land Grab Ontology


  • I am grateful to two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on an earlier draft.


The current bout of land annexation expresses a particular moment in modern history—specifically the condensation of a series of linked crises. Arguably the world is at an ecological tipping point, and how land resources are managed now is of paramount concern. Of course, land management has variable meaning, with quite different ontological consequences. The difference registers in the distinct visions expressed, for example, by the World Bank and the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur, Olivier de Schutter, regarding the implications of the land grab for global food security. While the bank proposes responsible investments in “land acquisition,” the rapporteur argues that this is a way of “responsibly destroying the world's peasantry.” The former, concerned with governing the rights of capital, expresses a form of neoproductivism, signaled in the concept of “sustainable intensification” increasingly underwritten by agribusiness. The latter, concerned with protecting the material rights of rural inhabitants, expresses an ontology centered on the sustainability of agroecological methods used by farmers who know and value their landscapes. More than simply alternative visions, these represent different responses to the combined food, energy, and climate crises, informing quite distinctive ontologies concerning the relationship between “food security,” environmental crisis, and land management, which I address in this article in terms of the “ecology of food security.”