500 international researchers, activists and government officials will converge in Bogota on 19-21 March 2024 to talk about global land grabbing

500 international researchers, activists and government officials will converge in Bogota on 19-21 March 2024 to talk about global land grabbing Promo Image

In November 2011, Ibrahima Coulibally president of the West African farmers alliance ROPPA, coordinated the large La Via Campesina-sponsored international conference in Mali against global land grabbing. It was during the middle of the global land rush – the period of a mad scramble for land, marked by spectacle and frenzy when land prospectors and investment prospectors triggered and sustained a hyperbolic narrative about the converging global crises in which the solution lies in the existence of purportedly ‘marginal lands’ that are supposedly ‘available’ for reallocation and repurposing of use. This has led to an international land rush. Many of the spectacular large-scale land deals in Africa and everywhere else have become operational, others have ‘failed’. But regardless of the operational status of land deals, it seems that lands never reverted back to ordinary villagers whose lands were grabbed. On 19-21 March 2024, Ibrahima is going to Bogota, Colombia to be one of the plenary speakers at the International global land grabbing conference to be held at the Universidad de los Andes. He said:

"For us peasants living in communities, land is not just an investment or something that we own, but it is part of our lives and our existence. And when we tear it away it is exactly like tearing off an arm or a leg from a human being."

The Bogota conference process treats land in a broad sense: land, nature, water, oceans, forests, wetlands; the social relations around land use and access distribution; land in the context of state, capital accumulation and legitimation through consent and coercion; violence, war and peace-building; land grabs during war and peace, land grabs during land rush and post-land rush; water grabbing and ocean grabbing; financialization; net zero emission; and so on.

More than a decade ago, the popular belief then was that land grabbing was occurring mainly in Africa. But it didn’t take long to realize that the phenomenon is global: global South and North, rural and urban. In fact, land grabbing and land concentration are compelling issues in Europe, as the 2013 study of European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) and the Hands-Off The Land (HOTL) Alliance has shown. The call for broad coalitions against land grabbing has been made at the November 2011 Mali conference, and it remains an important call today. Alliances include those by social movements and engaged researchers. Morgan Ody, a French farmer and General Coordinator of La Via Campesina is one of the keynote speakers at the Bogota conference. Morgan said:

"Land grabbing and land concentration are occurring at fast rate, in particular linked to ‘green’ economy and offsetting schemes. The conference in Bogota will allow social movements and scholars to exchange. This methodology is innovative and important, as it will allow a better understanding of the situation and will help define appropriate strategies to stop this dangerous trend."

On 19-21 March 2024, 500 participants will converge in Bogota. It is not an ordinary academic conference or an activist gathering or a government event. It is a combination of these, with more or less 60% academics, 30% social justice movement activists, and 10% government officials, in which there will be about 70% coming from outside Colombia. There will be over 200 papers to be presented and discussed, including 27 papers from the recipients of the competitive small grants that LDPI organized for the Bogota process. Colombia Vice President Francia Marquez and Agriculture Minister Jhenifer Mojica will be among the several top-level Colombian officials who will participate at the conference. The conference will be in three languages: English, Spanish and French. The Land Deal Politics Initiative (LDPI) the main initiator of the conference outlined in its framework paper the big questions to be addressed at the conference: “Global land deals: What has been done, what has changed, and what’s next?”

The Bogota conference has to be seen in a historical trajectory, especially in the context of social movements’ struggles against land grabbing. The Indonesian Peasant Union (SPI) organized in July 2012 in Bukit Tinggi, West Sumatra in Indonesia an international conference against land grabbing and on building popular alternatives. One of the key convenors of that meeting is Zainal Fuad. He said:

"Indonesia is one of the epicentres of global land grabbing. Nothing much has changed in terms of continuing land grabs since the Bukit Tinggi event in 2012. That is why having the Bogota conference to strategize how to fight more effectively through broad coalitions is important."

In 2016, in Marabá, Pará, Brazil, another important follow up international conference was organized by social movements to advance the struggle against agribusiness and land grabbing. In short, social movements who struggle against land grabbing never stopped their efforts to generate attention to ongoing land grabbing – even when, or especially because, the level of interest of international media has waned. The Colombian peasant movement FENSUAGRO was one of the organizers of the Maraba conference, and will also play a key role in the March conference in Bogota, with its leader Nury Martinez being one of the keynote speakers.

Social movements were at the forefront not only of actual struggles against land grabbing, but also in generating relevant knowledge about the phenomenon. This is complemented by the initiatives from engaged researchers in academia. It is not the first time for the main organizer of the March conference, the Land Deal Politics Initiative (LDPI), a loose international network of engaged researchers on land grabbing and the Transnational Institute (TNI) to organize this kind of conference. The first LDPI conference was in 2011 in IDS Sussex in the UK, followed by the one in 2012 in Cornell University in New York. There are several more conferences after that, and altogether LDPI conferences have been influential in shaping the international research agenda on this topic.

Moreover, there is a critical mass of young academic researchers who will participate in the conference who are based in or are from the global South, and are working in the tradition of scholar-activism. Doi Ra is from Myanmar, a PhD researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam and who is also a researcher at the Transnational Institute (TNI). She is taking a long trip from Yangon to Bogota, and is excited to participate. She said:

"I’m very excited to attend the 2024 Global Land Grabbing conference in Bogota which will bring together academics, activists and policy makers from around the world to discuss and strategize on a very important issue, land grabbing. It is even more urgent at this time in the context of Myanmar as land grabbing has intensified after the military coup in 2021."

The Bogota conference is being convened at a time where there is an emerging consensus among land grabbing watchers and researchers that the land enclosures continue in different parts of the world, including in Colombia, although the interest of media has waned. There is also an emerging consensus that not only that land grabbing did not go away, it might even gain renewed momentum in the coming time especially because the mainstream climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies are significantly land-oriented. The difficulty in talking about land grabbing today, unlike in 2011 and 2012, is that the global land rush – the spectacle, the convulsive and frenzied atmosphere that the hyperbolic narratives and the mad scramble for land that this triggered – is over. Land grabbing has become everyday occurrence, routinized, regularized, normalized – and this has an invisibilizing effect. This is one reason for the importance and urgency of converging a large international conference of academic, activists and policy practitioners. The aim is not only to academically study and interpret what is going on, but to actually intervene and to try to influence in changing the very character and trajectory of the politics of land. At the 2012 LDPI conference, Delvin Kuyek of GRAIN, the NGO who first made the report in 2008 about global land grabbing, clarified powerfully that activist research on land grabbing is not a postmortem type, that is, studying how a dead body died. That is, the reason for studying land grabs is because we want to intervene in changing the character and trajectory of the politics of land, to stop land grabs. Thus, the importance, urgency, timing, and the ‘what is to be done’ questions are very different from a purely academic study.

In the tradition of LDPI, the Bogota conference will bring together the strength of engaged academic research, the sense of urgency and irreverence of social justice activists, and the authoritative role of progressive officials in (inter)governmental institutions. It is not always easy to bring them together, but when they do and do it well, the positive energy that could be generated is enormous. This is what is hoped to be achieved in Bogota on 19-21 March 2024 as a contribution to the political struggles against exploitation, oppression and plunder brought about by and through global land grabbing.

For a selection of papers that will be presented and discussed at the conference, see the 2024 LDPI Working Paper Series.