Impact of transnational land acquisitions on local food security and dietary

January 2021
Müller et al. (PNAS)

By looking at the actual use of acquired land, and the trade-off between increased production of export crops and local food security, the article addresses the evidence gap relating to the nutritional impact and food security implications of Large Scale Land Acquisitions (LSLAs). It combines agricultural, remote sensing, and household survey data with georeferenced information on 160 land deals selected from the Land Matrix global dataset; and examines their implications for food access and production. The deals cover some 4.1 million hectares in 39 countries and four continents (including 28 deals in 11 SSA countries), and all began production after 2000. Being georeferenced, they can be spatially and temporally matched with global food production datasets and local household dietary data.

The article reveals a paradox where LSLAs simultaneously contribute to closing the global yield gap by increasing crop production, while undermining local food security by removing key dietary nutrients from communities and converting these into energy-rich products for export markets and biofuel. They also contribute to the poor nutritional quality of target (urban) population diets, especially the poor. Moreover, LSLAs use only a small part of their land, and the jobs promised to those who lose their land do not materialise. Newly proletarianized rural livelihoods become more precarious, with local diets also becoming dependent upon high energy, low nutritional value food brought in through local markets. The analysis points to the way the global food industry intersects with land issues to undermine local land rights and dietary sufficiency at both local and global level.

These are unsurprising findings for most critics of LSLAs. The article provides solid data, however, to counter the dominant narrative of politicians and corporate interests that enclosures are necessary to meet global food energy needs, with negative local impacts offset by new jobs and food markets.