Behind the scenes of land grabbing : conflict, competition, and the gendered implications for local food production and rural livelihoods in Cameroon

Abstract: Large-scale land acquisitions or land grabbing are widespread – cutting across almost all parts of the developing world – Asia, Latin America and Africa. In recent years, this phenomenon has grown at unprecedented rates with Africa being the most targeted continent. In Cameroon, although land grabbing is raising prospects for national-level benefits, it is generating increasing tensions with local communities who suffer from dispossession of land and natural resources. This thesis examines the dynamics associated with the loss of land in a particular context in Nguti subdivision of the South West Region of Cameroon. It focuses on five communities in the region whose lands were earmarked by the state for the development of monoculture oil palm plantations. The main research objectives were to explore local perceptions and reactions to this phenomenon; but also to examine how it disproportionately affects men and women and its implications for local food production and rural livelihoods. This research is framed by studies of the ‘global land grab’; local communities’ livelihood strategies; womens’ access to land and forest resources; and land management and governance in Cameroon. Fieldwork included interviews, focus group discussions and participant observation. To attain the above objectives, four stand-alone empirical chapters are included in this thesis, each addressing particular research questions. My research questions query: 1) ‘why do people contest the establishment of commercial oil palm plantations on ancestral land and in what ways do they struggle for incorporation’; 2) ‘Why and how does land acquisition generates conflict within communities and with the agro-company/state’; 3) ‘How do men and women perceive and react to land grabbing projects’; 4) ‘In what ways does land grabbing disproportionately affect men and women; and what implications does it have for womens’ food production in particular, and rural livelihoods in general’? Broadly, this thesis offers insights into the complexities and challenges that confront heterogeneous local communities as a result of the acquisition of land hitherto accessed by them to sustain rural livelihoods. Specifically, it a) demonstrates that local communities are not necessarily against large-scale investments in land; rather their concern is how they can benefit from it without detriment, particularly if they lose access to their most fertile agricultural lands, b) explores some of the complexities that the ‘elite-dominated’ and corrupt land deals have generated, with particular reference to cross-scale governance, inter-village conflicts and community resistance in the region, c) shows that amidst societal discrimination over land ownership rights, perceptual differences between men and women appears rational in the event of land grabbing – men follow their ascribed roles in overt reactions, while women  tend to be much less active and vocal in contesting land acquisition, despite the fact that the land acquired were mostly used by women to generate household food security, d) demonstrates how pre-existing land tenure systems combined with contemporary statutory land laws to accord men greater power over land to the detriment of women; posing severe implications for womens’ food production and rural livelihoods, and e) proposes policy recommendations that if instituted will help benefit the state, local communities and land investors. While this study specifically targets individuals, whose livelihoods are strictly tied to land and forest resources in the region, I also emphasized the roles of other actors such as village chiefs, local politicians, NGO personnel, and government authorities in shaping and influencing the dynamics around land grabbing in Nguti subdivision.

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