Land Matrix

large-scale land acquisitions
Example of a large-scale land acquisition in Sierra Leone, Westafrica: Company preparing a site to grow sugarcane for biofuels (Land Matrix ID 1798). Photo: Patrick Bottazzi

Large-scale land acquisitions hit the international headlines in the wake of the commodity boom in 2007/2008 and the subsequent hunger crises in many of the poorest countries in the South. Reports on land deals made at the expense of local populations and concluded without consultation of the affected population sparked the interest of media, policymakers, NGOs, and researchers.

The Land Matrix initiative

The Land Matrix is an independent global monitoring initiative launched by CDE and other organizations in 2012. It monitors land acquisitions with the aim of getting a better picture of the extent, patterns, and impacts of international purchases or leases of land in the global South.

The initiative promotes transparency and accountability in decisions on large-scale land acquisitions in low- and middle-income countries across the world.

Using data to increase transparency

The Land Matrix initiative collects and provides open access to data and information on large-scale land deals. In so doing, it pursues the twofold aim of increasing knowledge on the extent and impact of such deals while incentivizing investors and governments to make more data and information on land deals publicly available.

As an open-access tool, the database of the Land Matrix initiative is designed to enable broad public participation in continually upgrading, correcting, and improving information on large-scale land acquisitions. The Land Matrix initiative

  • supports greater public involvement in critical decisions that affect the lives of land users;
  • addresses major imbalances in access to information, which currently disadvantage weaker stakeholders like smallholders, pastoralists, and other vulnerable land users; and
  • contributes to more transparent, equitable, and democratic decision-making on land use and land investments.

All data, visual presentations, newsletters, and further resources are freely accessible via the Land Matrix website.

Large-scale land acquisition in Mozambique: soybean plantation. Photo: Julie Zähringer

Achievements to date

Over the years, the Land Matrix has become the primary point of reference for data, information, and knowledge on large-scale land acquisitions. It is used by a wide range of stakeholders.

In 2017, for example, the G20 referred to the Land Matrix in a statement on their initiative for rural youth employment. In 2018, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) asked the Land Matrix to support their efforts in monitoring the implementation of voluntary guidelines on the responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries, and forests in the context of national food security. Land Matrix data are also widely used by academic researchers, university teachers, mass media, and civil-society organizations.

Major milestones include the publication of two analytical reports (see box below for information about the latest one). The third analytical report is scheduled for publication in late 2020.

An important effort is currently underway to decentralize Land Matrix activities. In a first step, the initiative established regional focal points that collect data through regional networks and partners. In a second step, it created five national land observatories. These will intensify data collection in specific countries, extending their monitoring activities to include smaller deals and deals made by domestic investors. On this basis, they will provide inputs to various national policy processes and contribute to relevant decisions on behalf of more equitable land governance.

Lay J, Anseeuw W, Eckert S, Flachsbarth I, Kubitza C, Nolte K, Giger M. 2021

Few development benefits, many human and environmental risks. Taking stock of the global land rush. Analytical Report III

This report contributes to the body of knowledge available on large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) in low- and middle-income countries. It presents an up-to-date analysis of the data contained in the Land Matrix database and provides complementary evidence based on case studies. Following a concise overview of general trends and recent developments, it zooms in on key target regions, investigates who acquires land, and discusses emerging evidence on the impacts of land acquisitions. The report clearly shows the urgent need to rethink LSLAs and transform current practices into responsible and sustainable contributions to economic and social development.

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