Interdisciplinary action-research project on natural resources in central Africa

Key messages

Land Rush aims to get across three key messages

 

1) Risk diversification vs. profit maximisation.

Often regarded as 'backward' and 'un-knowledgeable', poor farmers in developing countries are often considered by policy makers as inefficient and unable to maximise their profit. Land rush brings out the inner dynamics of smallholder peasant farming. The game illustrates that profit maximisation is often not a realistic, nor desirable objective for smallholder farmers. They rather aim at minimising the risks they face, in order to keep their resource-base safe from unforeseeable economic or climate shocks. This is often done through intercropping as opposed to monoculture, and feeding one's household first as opposed to realising economies of scale for the market.

 

2) Legal pluralism.

While formal rights and clear 'rules of the game' may be important to guarantee equitable access to land and natural resources, the reality of rural settings is often more complicated than what is written in law bills. Customary laws, informal arrangements and dynamics of reciprocity are important mechanisms through which vulnerable actors claim access to the use of natural resources. In Land Rush, players engage in a continuous renegotiation of the formal and informal rules of the game. For poor farmers, such 'alternative' normative orders may be crucial in securing their access to land and natural resources.

 

3) Unequal relations of power.

Rural producers do not work in an isolated social field. On the contrary, farmers are embedded in an environment filled with economic and political differentiation (poor versus rich farmers, well-connected versus 'voiceless' producers…). In Land Rush it becomes clear that richer and more powerful actors have a comparative advantage in negotiating access to natural resources. However, the game also illustrates how the poorest actors may still find ways of making their voices heard and may take collective action to defend their interests.

 

illustration land-rush