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Fall 2012
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Around the Quad

Social Scientists Look at Global ‘feeding frenzy’ for Land

Members of the ISS Contested Global Landscapes Team

Members of the ISS Contested Global Landscapes Team. Front row, left to right: Wendy Wolford, Sara Pritchard. Back row, left to right: Steven Wolf, Paul Nadasdy, Raymond Craib, Nancy Chau, Jon Parmenter and Charles Geisler.

Victims of the U.S. real estate slump may not feel it, but there’s a worldwide land rush afoot. Nations, corporations, and private investors are buying enormous tracts of land around the world at a rate up to 20 times faster than in previous years, vying for new places to source water, food, and biofuels.

The Contested Global Landscapes project led by Wendy Wolford, the Polson Professor of Development Sociology, and Charles Geisler, professor of development sociology, will collaborate with a group from Cornell’s Institute for the Social Sciences to analyze the financial, political, and legal implications of this trend over the next three years.

The issue will also take center stage at the upcoming Second International Conference on Global Land Grabbing, which will be held Oct. 17-19 at Cornell, with expected participation from 200 scholars from around the world and a keynote address by José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

“Large-scale land deals are radically transforming property, governance, political economy, and livelihoods around the world,” Wolford said.

The eight-member team will take diverse angles on the land deals, including new land policies in China, forestry resources and “sea-steading” (living in permanent dwellings on the oceans beyond international jurisdiction), land claim negotiations, and “South-South” land deals, particularly Brazil’s investments in parts of Africa.

“We’re expecting some big ideas to arise from this group project,” Geisler said. “The larger context is critical to understanding shrinking ‘global hectare’ trends as well as the precarious state of everyday people dependent on lands in the global South.”