Understanding land acquisitions in West Africa: A community-based approach

April 26, 2016

According to the International Land Coalition, between 2000 and 2010, foreign actors and country elites acquired an estimated 83 million hectares through large-scale land acquisitions, 70% of which are in Africa, typically without consulting communities. Media reports usually blame foreign actors for this, yet an IDRC-supported research project in West Africa, carried out by Inter Pares, has found that governments are often complicit in this type of activity. Additionally, the research suggests that country elites are heavily implicated in the process as buyers, sellers, and intermediaries for foreigners.

Participatory action research in West Africa

Inter Pares collaborated with the Coalition for the Protection of African Genetic Heritage (COPAGEN) and the University of Montreal to address the issue of large-scale land acquisitions. Through participatory action research, the research team examined the impact of land acquisitions on food security and community livelihoods in nine West African countries: Burkina Faso, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo. The research team focused particularly on Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau, where they conducted in-depth impact studies.

This project is particularly important as local communities often depend on the acquired land for livestock grazing and farming. In some places, locals have begun forming “land watch committees” to monitor land transactions and defend community rights through information sharing. The implications of large-scale land acquisitions are manifold, as they affect food security, livelihoods, and the environment, and can contribute to conflict.

The impact of land acquisitions on women

Women are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of large-scale land acquisitions, yet they are rarely consulted in these transactions. Often, land acquisitions result in diminished access to farm lands and increased food insecurity for women. Because of this, women lose status within their family and are forced to depend on men. 

In Sare Djae, Guinea-Bissau, 2000 hectares of fertile land were acquired without local community consultation. This land was primarily used by women to grow rice and vegetables. The acquisition led in turn to more forest clearing in the area for rice cultivation, forcing men working in the forests to live and work in close proximity to the women who used to cultivate the land. Because of this, conditions for women have grown more difficult and rice production has decreased significantly.

Project results

As in all participatory action research projects, the process is as important as the product. As co-researchers in this project, farmers were fully aware of the issues at hand, which led to improved organization. A network of community “land watch committees” was developed to oppose large-scale land acquisitions. In addition, this project helped create an interactive website that increased discussion of the issue.

This project has benefitted from support from the New Field Foundation and Le Comité catholique contre la faim et pour le développement.

Read more about the project

Read the book Touche pas à ma terre, c'est ma vie ! (PDF, 8.5MB)

Read the final report (PDF, 218KB, available in French only)

Explore the Info Acquisitions Terres Afrique’s interactive website (French only)

Learn more about