The redistribution of land for commercial agriculture in the era of 'land grabbing': A multi-scalar exploration of the 'marginal lands' narrative with a focus on contemporary Ethiopia
Nalepa, Rachel A.
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Bringing more agricultural land into production for biofuels and food crops will be necessary if we are to both fulfill our collective climate initiative goals and feed an increasing global population. The direct competition between land for food and land for biofuels has resulted in increased interest in identifying 'marginal lands' such that biofuels can be grown on land that does not threaten the food security of poor, rural communities. The term `marginal land' is also used by developing state governments to describe large swaths of land being leased to private or state-affiliated investors in what has been referred to by the international research community as the 'global land grab'. 'Marginal land', however, is defined and operationalized differently across users and anecdotal evidence shows that some lands classified as marginal are actually used by local communities. Empirical studies investigating these contested lands have not incorporated spatial information. The main objective of this thesis is to conduct a multi-scalar, spatially-explicit exploration of the marginal lands narrative. The first chapter investigates the ontology of the marginal land label as it is applied on a global/regional scale using a meta-analysis of four recent studies. The second chapter triangulates national-level geospatial information with information from semi-structured interviews to examine marginal lands allocated to Ethiopia's federal land bank as contested spaces. The third chapter uses a statistical analysis to identify the socio-political and biophysical determinants of banked lands on a subnational scale in Benishangul-Gumuz, Ethiopia. Results show that methods using remotely sensed information to identify marginal lands on a global/regional scale are qualitatively and quantitatively divergent and are limited in their usefulness in identifying available land for biofuels. The Ethiopia case study finds that the federal government is banking 'marginal land' for future investment that is more appropriately understood as 'land unused for commercial agriculture' and that they are contested spaces where the federal government stands to incur multiple benefits through their transformation to large-scale agriculture. I also find both biophysical and socio-political factors (i.e. ethnicity, agricultural practices) guide the federal government's decision regarding which land to target in the subnational region of Benishangul-Gumuz.