Yesterday I gave a presentation in the IofC event Land and Life: Human security through sustainable development, on the issue of land grabbing (or large-scale land acquisitions if you wish..) I talked in particular about the impacts on livelihoods in the largest foreign investment ever in Madagascar, the Ambatovymining project. This case gives an illustration of many of the issues that are relevant in large-scale land deals all over the world, such as land degradation, the risk of loss of biodiversity, and the difficulties with assuring a fair and equitable process for all affected people.
This was an issue that I encountered already during my first visit to Madagascar in 2009, when I stayed in the city of Fort Dauphin where the second largest mining project in the country, Rio Tinto, is located. When talking to the local population about the project they raised complaints about people who had been evicted from their land to give room for the project, and not received proper compensation. In particular women were typically left out of the formal procedures and instead only their husbands received the compensation; money that was not always shared with their wife nor used for productive purposes.
Once back in Sweden, I started to write a research proposal for a study on gender and land rights in Madagascar within the scope of my doctoral dissertation in resource economics. Parallel to the Malagasy government’s efforts to attract foreign direct investments in land, a land reform has been implemented aimed at privatizing land rights for small-holder farmers. The formation and impact of these two important policies are the main focus of my study. I pay specific attention to gender perspectives, given a global context where women own less than 2 percent of land, yet are responsible for producing 60-80 percent of food in developing countries. There is a risk that inequalities in access to and control over land are reinforced when land rights are formalized, which I find some indications of in my study.
Last year I spent about six months in Madagascar collecting data for this project (a truly wonderful country, if you ever get the chance to go there –take it!), which included doing interviews with rural women. One of the Malagasy girls that helped me with this asked me if we didn’t have our own problems with gender inequality in Sweden. Did I really have to go all the way to Madagascar to study that? I wish I could have said “no, gender inequality is not a problem in Sweden anymore”, but instead I had to tell her that even in what is known to be the most gender equal country in the world women are discriminated against every day, and that this has been one of my motivations to start doing research in the first place. When it comes to policy reforms in the area of natural resources, I did however find it more interesting to study a country where people are immediately dependent on the resource for their daily life. I have already participated in some events here in Rio which have confirmed the importance of this kind of research, and of not forgetting the voices of people who don’t always get heard.