Contested Global Landscapes

A Multidisciplinary Initiative of the Cornell Institute for the Social Sciences

  • A small farm in the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador, where agriculture struggles for a place.

  • Sharing bananas on a farm in Santa Cruz, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador.

  • Landless laborers on a sugarcane plantation in northeastern Brazil.

  • A small farm nestled amidst rolling hills dedicated to sugarcane.

  • A land reform settler shows off his house and fields in northeastern Brazil.

  • Two different landscapes: sugarcane fields meet small farms. Photo credit: Douglas Mansur.


The past decade has seen an enormous rush to acquire land, a phenomenon that some have dubbed a “global land grab.” These acquisitions are motivated by rising food and fuel prices, anticipated commodity and resource scarcities, new incentives for financial speculation, and concerns over dwindling spaces for “nature.” As reports of a “global food crisis,” peak oil, global climate change and ecological devastation multiply, the hunt for land and access to its riches similarly intensifies. This ISS Theme Project analyzes the diversity and complexity of land deals both as a lived experience and as a changing set of global relationships. We contextualize the rush to enclose land within four related global transformations referenced to property, governance, economy and livelihood.

Contested Global Landscapes Blog

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Agricultural investment models for replication and scaling up: Ways forward for achieving gender equitable agricultural commercialisation?

March 7th, 2014

Land accumulation by investors or investment companies for large-scale farming to the disadvantage of small-scale farmers is part of the framework within which gender equitable agricultural commercialisation is being discussed  in the Agricultural Investment, Gender and Land in Africa conference. Days 1 and 2 of the workshop detailed the diversity[...]

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Doing business with farmers: Is there a good model?

March 6th, 2014

One of today’s parallel sessions of the Agricultural Investment, gender and Land conference looked at the business models through which investors engage farmers .[...]

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Land investments in Africa: It's all about responsible governance

March 3rd, 2014

In the midst of all the controversy, there is likely to be agreement that LSLBI have come to occupy center stage of the land debate in many parts of Africa – rightly or wrongly. I say rightly or wrongly because there will be many who are of the view that[...]

Summer Institute 2014

The second Summer Institute on Contested Global Landscapes, sponsored by the Institute for the Social Sciences, is scheduled to be held at Cornell University from May 18-23, 2014. Participants will include advanced graduate students (i.e., completing dissertations) and junior scholars (i.e., who received a Ph.D. after May 2011) in the humanities, social sciences, and other relevant disciplines. The theme of the 2014 Summer Institute is “Knowledge and the Politics of Land.”