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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Formalising village land dispossession? An aggregate analysis of the combined effects of the land formalisation and land acquisition agendas in Tanzania

Engström, Linda; Bélair, Joanny; Blache, Adriana


While literature on land grabbing and land formalisation respectively has literally exploded the past decade, few studies analyse the practical processes taking place at their confluence, or provide an analysis at an aggregate level. This paper is based on 27 months of in-depth empirical investigation of thirteen large-scale agro-investments across four regions in Tanzania. It explores how four key legislative acts and policies related to land formalisation and land acquisition for large-scale agro-investments unfold on the ground, their implementation and combined effects. We show that land formalisation and acquisition are intrinsically linked: the former paving the way for investment in all thirteen cases. Moreover, rather than fulfilling development policy expectations of land tenure security for smallholder farmers, employment and poverty reduction in rural Africa, we demonstrate that, in Tanzania, these combined processes rather foster village land dispossession, investors’ land acquisitions, and a (re)centralisation of land control. Therefore, we argue that the conjoint implementation of policies associated with land formalisation and land investments have adverse consequences for rural farmers whose land is formalised and then set aside for investment ultimately leading to a formalised rural land dispossession. Our unique aggregate analysis thus provides solid support to the existing critique towards the parallel implementation of land formalisation and large-scale agro-investments, and the interlinked reform of the land legislative framework, all strongly supported by global development bodies.


Land formalisation; Land acquisition; Land grabbing; Dispossession; Land rights; Tanzania; Development policy

Published in

Land Use Policy
2022, volume: 120, article number: 106255

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Urban and Rural Development
Bélair, Joanny
University of Ottawa
Blache, Adriana
University of Toulouse

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG1 End poverty in all its forms everywhere
SDG8 Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
SDG16 Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

UKÄ Subject classification

Agricultural Science
Human Geography

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