The Role of Property Rights in the Debate on Large-Scale Land Acquisitions

18 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2015

Date Written: May 2, 2015


The initial reaction to the sudden increase in large-scale leases and acquisitions of farmland in developing countries has been to promote titling schemes, allowing landusers, often poorly protected under customary forms of tenure, to be recognised as fully fledged owners of their land — allowing them to decide whether to sell, to whom, and under which conditions. This paper places this transformation in a historical and global perspective. It recalls why titling was advocated in the 1990s as a development tool, and why — during the mid-2000s — doubts began to emerge with regard to such advocacy. It then reviews alternatives to the simple transposition of Western conceptions of property rights; alternatives that may better serve the needs of rural households currently facing the threat of eviction and displacement, as a result of the race for farmland that we have witnessed in recent years. The paper notes the importance of avoiding confusion between the need to ensure security of tenure, on the one hand, and the creation of markets for land rights on the other, the latter of which processes — in a dynamic perspective — may not be advantageous to the poorest rural households. It also concludes that for these households, which depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, true security of tenure ultimately should be understood as the right to live decently from the agricultural activities that feed them.

Keywords: Agricultural investment, Land tenure, Titling schemes, Large-scale land acquisitions

Suggested Citation

De Schutter, Olivier, The Role of Property Rights in the Debate on Large-Scale Land Acquisitions (May 2, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Olivier De Schutter (Contact Author)

University of Louvain (Belgium) ( email )

Place Montesquieu, 3
B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, 1348

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