Minding ‘Productive Gaps’: An Appraisal of Non-operational Land Deals in Seven Sub-Saharan African Countries

Joanny Bélair*, Linda Engström, Marie Gagné

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


One of the dominant global development agendas for rural Africa in the past two decades has cast large-scale agro-industrial investments as a solution to achieve more efficient land use, higher crop yields, enhanced food security, and poverty reduction, among others. However, mounting evidence shows that this agenda has not fulfilled its promises: most land deals for agricultural production have not materialised as planned and their socio-economic development objectives often remain unreached. Despite the often severe impacts of non-operational projects, knowledge about why they fail to take place and operate remains fragmentary. Based on an extensive literature review of contemporary land deals in seven sub-Saharan countries, this paper sheds light on two ‘productive gaps’. First, the article delves into the ‘productive gap’ of land deals themselves, identifying key drivers of non-operational land deals. The reviewed literature points to local opposition and financial difficulties as significant factors impacting agricultural operations. Local opposition, in turn, stems largely from flawed land acquisition processes and unfulfilled investors’ promises. Second, this article offers a critical appraisal of the biases and oversights in the knowledge the land grab scholarship has ‘produced’.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Development Studies
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Apr 2024


  • comparative analysis
  • failed land deals
  • Land rush
  • large-scale agro-industrial investment
  • local opposition
  • sub-Saharan Africa


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