Article Review | Impact of Transnational Land Acquisitions on Local Food Security and Dietary Diversity by Müller et al. (2021)

May 5, 2021


Müller et al.'s (2021) most recent publication revisits the hotly-debated notion of large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) and assesses their impact on local food security. The study combines “agricultural, remote sensing, and household survey data (available in 11 sub-Saharan African countries) with georeferenced information on 160 land acquisitions in 39 countries” (p. 1) to arrive at a comprehensive overview of the effect of transnational land deals.

The authors offer three key contributions: (i) there is no significant proof of LSLAs targeting areas based on their biophysical characteristics, besides the available rainwater resources, (ii) agricultural LSLAs are not always linked to an expansion or intensification of crop production, and (iii) through the changes in the types of crops cultivated on the acquired land, land deals negatively impact the production and consumption of key dietary nutrients by the local population. These findings vary among the analyzed areas, reflecting the complexities of individual land deals.

The said contributions remain relevant in the light of water governance debate. Targeting locations based on their rainwater availability are of particular importance, echoing the findings of Dell’Angelo, Rulli, and D’Odorico (2018) that LSLAs are driven by “the quest of water resources” (p. 276), rather than mere land tenure. Furthermore, the research emphasizes the existing power relations, where the local, vulnerable communities lose out in the predominantly export-oriented transition induced by the land deals. All in all, the work of Müller et al. (2021) paints a paradoxical picture where “LSLAs can increase crop production while simultaneously threatening local food security” (p. 6).

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This article has been co-authored by three members of the NEWAVE project: Jampel Dell’Angelo, Paolo D’Odorico, and Maria Cristina Rulli.


- Dell’Angelo, J., Rulli, M. C., & D’Odorico, P. (2018). The Global Water Grabbing Syndrome. Ecological Economics, 143, pp. 276-285.

- Müller,  M. F., P. Gopal, Niles, M. T., Ricciardi, V., Danilo Chiarelli, D., Frankel Davis, K., …, Mueller, N. D. (2021). Impact of Transnational Land Acquisitions on Local Food Security and Dietary Diversity. PNAS, 118(4), pp. 1-9.