Panel 1



Globalization and Changing Perspectives on Social and Environmental Standards in Tropical Agriculture

Derek Byerlee, Independent Scholar (

Although recent attention has focused on a global “land grab” associated with high commodity prices and growing resource scarcity, this phenomena is not new and indeed was very much evident in the first period of globalization dating from the mid-19th Century. However, the social and environmental norms within which large-scale land acquisitions have taken place has evolved over time, leading to growing recognition of customary tenure rights of local and indigenous peoples, and increasing recognition of livelihoods and local and global ecosystem services provided by forests and savanna natural areas, historically classified as wastelands. This paper will illustrate these changes through examination of the two major extensions of the agricultural frontier association with the first period of globalization. The first was the rapid expansion of the wheat frontier in temperate savanna areas through settler in-migration in the new world from around 1850 to the first World War, especially in South Australia, the US Great Plains, and the Argentine Pampas. The second was the expansion of tropical plantation agriculture on the forest margin, over the same period, but with sporadic renewed bursts of activity until today. The paper will give particular attention to how land in the commons was viewed in contemporary policy contexts during these expansions. It will show that generally, rights of farmers of settled crop agriculture under customary tenure was often protected against settler or investor expansion, but that rights of shifting crop farmers, pastoralists, hunters and gatherers, were widely ignored, although there were important exceptions. Even today, these patterns are manifest in the contemporary upsurge in investment in tropical agriculture, although environmental services associated with natural areas, especially tropical forests, are much more widely recognized.

Keywords: Agricultural frontiers; large-scale land acquisitions; land tenure; customary rights


Still trying to kill two big birds with one stone? Contrasting an ill-fated groundnut scheme in the late colonial period with recent processes of large-scale land acquisition for biofuels in Ghana

D. Andrew Wardell ( and George Schoneveld (

This paper compares and contrasts an ill-fated groundnut scheme in the late colonial period with contemporary processes of large-scale land acquisition to produce biofuel feedstocks in Ghana. It compares processes of negotiation and how authority was/is exercised to secure rights to land in two different periods. The paper suggests that the cyclic resurgence of ‘developmental’ interests continues to override efforts to recognize and protect customary land tenure arrangements.

The post-World War II economic interests of the Gold Coast Colony resulted in an unlikely convergence of interest – Forestry Department plans to gazette headwaters protection reserves in the Protectorate of the Northern Territories, and Agriculture Department ambitions to develop mechanised agriculture in the savannah zone. In 1951 the Gonja Development Company (GDC) was provided with a certificate of occupancy for 130 km2 of land near Damongo (Northern Region), a nominal capital of £1 million, and charged with promoting mechanised agricultural production and the settlement of farmers from what were perceived to be “over-crowded” areas in Mamprusi (Upper East Region). The scheme was an abject failure. The colonial administration paid scant regard to protecting customary land tenure, even though Pogucki’s seminal work was completed in 1951.

The Government of Ghana published a National Land Policy in 1999The objective of the policy includes protecting “the rights of landowners and their descendants from becoming landless or tenants on their own land”. In the wake of the biofuels ‘boom’ foreign companies have recently secured large areas of customary land in Ghana to produce biofuel feedstocks, often through opaque negotiations with customary authorities, outside the purview of government and customary land users. Despite their vulnerability, customary land users nevertheless, remain supportive of biofuel plantations, with high expectations of ‘development’ and ‘modernization’. Despite a decade of support through a Land Administration Programme (2001-2011), customary land authorities appear to remain invisible to the law.

Keywords: Ghana; large-scale land acquisitions; customary land tenure; Gonja Development Corporation; biofuel feedstocks


Land Alienation and Contestation in Kenyan Maasailand

Lotte Hughes, The Open University, UK (

In the 1900s, the Maasai people of Kenya (then the Protectorate of British East Africa) were forcibly moved into reserves to make way for white settlement of the highlands. It is estimated that the community lost at least 50 per cent of the land they had once utilized as pastoralists, and that the land they were moved to was environmentally inferior to their former grazing areas in the Rift Valley and Laikipia. Today the Maasai claim that the policies of post-independence governments (since 1963) have led to further serious losses of common land, through sanctioning ‘encroachment’ by other ethnic groups to land that had been reserved by the British for Maasai use only, and the conversion of large areas of former Maasai territory into national parks and game reserves. The introduction of individual land title (as well as subsequent sell-off and subdivision into uselessly small plots) is also a major factor in today’s ‘land poverty’. This paper will draw on oral testimony and archival research to explain the long-term legacy of this early land alienation, and contestation over land rights in the twenty-first century that utilizes Kenya’s new constitution to claim ‘lost’ land as ancestral cultural heritage.

Keywords: Colonial land alienation; Kenya; Maasai pastoralists; national parks and game reserves

Working with nature: the role of Japanese ethnic identity and values in transforming nature in the Brazilian Amazon in Pará State, 1929-2012

Renata Marson Teixeira de Andrade, (, and Andrew Miccolis (, Instituto Salvia, and Clovis, Cavalcanti (, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

This article sheds light on the role played by notions of commons, aesthetics and happiness in the historical experiences and relationship of Japanese Brazilians with the Amazon landscape in the municipality of Tomé-açu, State of Pará, Brazil. Since Levi-Strauss wrote “Tristes Tropiques”, the Amazon region has been imagined as a landscape of suffering. Japanese migrants dating back to 1929 found a harsh environment that required reinventing how they organized themselves around ideals of commons versus individuals to relate with nature and shifted their livelihoods strategies for achieving “happiness for all” versus “individual happiness”: from subsistence farming reliant on slash and burn and vegetable farming, to the boom and bust cycles of commodities such as black pepper and, more recently, cacao. Over the past few decades, Japanese and their Brazilian descendants have been intercropping native Amazon species such as cacao, açai, and cupuaçu with timber, oil palm and fruit species in agroforestry systems as a means of reducing their vulnerability to market forces and diseases, and increase their quality of life, and overall happiness. While economically-oriented by design, such systems bring these farmers a step closer to the age-old Japanese ideal of environmental aesthetics: working with nature and not against it. This paper explores the role of deeply rooted cultural notions, including aesthetics, happiness and cooperation values surrounding human’s relationship among themselves and with nature, in such transformation processes. In order to investigate this complex relationship between Japanese Brazilians and nature in this corner of the Amazon, we use the lens of environmental history, ethics, and social identity/representation theories. This relationship spans across four main periods: 1900-1929; 1930- 1976; 1977-2002; and 2003-2012, in which the ethnic identity and values of Japanese Brazilians played an important role in shaping themselves in long-lasting cooperative system and productive agroforestry landscape.

Keywords: Brazil; Pará State; Japanese Brazilians; landscape transformations; environmental aesthetics