Marginal lands or marginal people? Analysing key processes determining the outcomes of large-scale land acquisitions in Lao PDR and Cambodia

Messerli, Peter; Peeters, Amaury; Schoenweger, Oliver; Nanhthavong, Vong; Heinimann, Andreas (2015). Marginal lands or marginal people? Analysing key processes determining the outcomes of large-scale land acquisitions in Lao PDR and Cambodia. In: Large-scale land acquisitions: Focus on South-East Asia. International development policy: Vol. 6 (pp. 136-171). Brill 10.4000/poldev.2037

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This chapter aims to overcome the gap existing between case study research, which typically provides qualitative and process-based insights, and national or global inventories that typically offer spatially explicit and quantitative analysis of broader patterns, and thus to present adequate evidence for policymaking regarding large-scale land acquisitions. Therefore, the chapter links spatial patterns of land acquisitions to underlying implementation processes of land allocation. Methodologically linking the described patterns and processes proved difficult, but we have identified indicators that could be added to inventories and monitoring systems to make linkage possible. Combining complementary approaches in this way may help to determine where policy space exists for more sustainable governance of land acquisitions, both geographically and with regard to processes of agrarian transitions. Our spatial analysis revealed two general patterns: (i) relatively large forestry-related acquisitions that target forested landscapes and often interfere with semi-subsistence farming systems; and (ii) smaller agriculture-related acquisitions that often target existing cropland and also interfere with semi-subsistence systems. Furthermore, our meta-analysis of land acquisition implementation processes shows that authoritarian, top-down processes dominate. Initially, the demands of powerful regional and domestic investors tend to override socio-ecological variables, local actors’ interests, and land governance mechanisms. As available land grows scarce, however, and local actors gain experience dealing with land acquisitions, it appears that land investments begin to fail or give way to more inclusive, bottom-up investment models.

Item Type:

Book Section (Book Chapter)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Integrative Geography
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
10 Strategic Research Centers > Centre for Development and Environment (CDE)

UniBE Contributor:

Messerli, Peter; Schoenweger, Oliver and Heinimann, Andreas


900 History > 910 Geography & travel






International development policy






Stephan Schmidt

Date Deposited:

16 Dec 2015 12:08

Last Modified:

07 Dec 2018 07:45

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