Large-scale land deals from the inside out: Findings from Kenya's Tana Delta

Rebecca Smalley, Esteve Corbera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


Although there is alarm over the global land rush, many plans for the large-scale transformation of land acquired by investors remain on the drawing board. Based on a study of two land deals in Kenya's Tana Delta, this paper considers the processes by which blueprint designs are amended or delayed through the involvement of local actors. It demonstrates that even top-down acquisition of land by powerful state-linked actors with the support of policy discourse can be stalled by the rural poor, particularly if the latter have strong customary claims and links to wider opposition. At the same time, large-scale land acquisition is not automatically opposed by local people, who may see land deals as an opportunity to safeguard access to resources and to support their development expectations. The paper also suggests that although consultation and the existence of recognised property rights appear to result in fairer project designs, land deals are likely to reflect the decision-making power of an elite that is not fully informed. The conclusion affirms the need for more nuanced, place-based analyses of large-scale land deals, taking into account tenure arrangements, resource access mechanisms, land management discourses and the role of cross-scale agency and alliances in building support for, or opposition to, such deals. © 2012 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1039-1075
JournalJournal of Peasant Studies
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2012


  • Kenya
  • access
  • discourse
  • land deals
  • ranches
  • rural development
  • tenure


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