Commodification of family lands and the changing dynamics of access in Ghana

Adwoa Yeboah Gyapong

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The new scramble for land in Africa has revived debates on customary land tenure–a phenomenon that has become almost synonymous with the role of traditional chiefs in land politics. At the same time, investors continue to seek opportunities in complex customary land tenure systems, which may not necessarily be within the absolute domains of chiefs. This paper examines the politics of compensation and rent distribution following the process of a large-scale expropriation of family lands for an oil palm plantation in Ghana’s eastern corridor. It demonstrates how and why the sudden commodification of land and the accompanying individualisation of land holdings alter the power structure and entitlements within families, often concentrating authority in the hands of a few elderly male kin and exacerbating inequality. The resulting changes could be attributed to the state’s role in land and investment policies. However, family heads also used the ensuing process of compensation and rent distribution to increase their influence and income at the expense of some smallholder farmers, sharecroppers, migrants, women and the youth. Even as the state continues to promote such farmland investments, civil society and researchers can influence public policies to protect marginalised groups.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1233-1251
Number of pages19
JournalThird World Quarterly
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2021

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