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Agricultural outsourcing or land grabbing: a meta-analysis



The phenomenon of known as ‘land grabbing’ is not a new process. Especially, since the 1990s, some capital-rich countries have started to buy or lease foreign lands to be able to produce food and biofuels.


This article aimed at investigating the (un)sustainability of ‘transnational land deals’ (TLDs) for investors, host governments and local communities. Given the three dimensions of sustainability, the “social acceptability”, “economic viability” and “environmental conservation” of the TLDs have been studied.


To understand whether and to what extent the TLD is sustainable in each dimension a meta-analysis was conducted on 73 journal articles.


Results showed that tenure arrangements and livelihoods were the main drivers for the matter’s social acceptability. Accordingly, local communities are affected by losing and receiving little or no compensation for their land, and making them have to face the increasing vulnerability of their livelihoods. This results in a win–win–loss situation for investors, host governments and local communities, respectively. Economic (un)sustainability mainly depends on capital flow, infrastructure and employment. This aspect is evidenced as a win for investors and host governments and implies the aforementioned win–win–loss situation. The main aspects of environmental (un)sustainability are considered as biodiversity, ecosystem services, and climate change.


According to the results, both host governments and local communities experience loss. This results in a win–loss–loss status of the TLDs. The major challenge remains in establishing good land governance, which can guarantee the benefits to local people and their access to land.

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The authors wish to thank Ms. Bethany Gardner from the Department of Linguistics, the State University of New York at Binghamton, for her kind help in improving the English of this text.

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Correspondence to Hossein Azadi.

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Vandergeten, E., Azadi, H., Teklemariam, D. et al. Agricultural outsourcing or land grabbing: a meta-analysis. Landscape Ecol 31, 1395–1417 (2016).

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  • Transnational land deal
  • Rural land use planning
  • Agricultural investment
  • Land investments
  • Sustainable land use
  • Land dispossession