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Race for the Prize: Land Transactions and Rent Appropriation in the Malian Cotton Zone

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Benjaminsen, Tor A.; Sjaastad, Espen
Conference: The Commons in an Age of Globalisation, the Ninth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Conf. Date: June 17-21, 2002
Date: 2002
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/1529
Sector: Agriculture
Land Tenure & Use
Region: Africa
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
agricultural expansion
land tenure and use
customary law
cotton
legal systems
pluralism
urbanization
Abstract: From Introduction: "This paper describes how agricultural land in peri-urban areas of the Malian cotton zone is converted, at a remarkable pace, from inalienable customary tenure to various forms of exclusive and alienable holdings. Around the rapidly expanding and densely settled urban centres, in a rough circle with a radial stretch of some ten to twenty kilometres, agricultural fields have become vehicles in a race. The prize pursued in this race is not so much the land itself as its value; the winner is not necessarily the one who, at the end, holds legal possession but instead the individual who has managed to extract the maximum portion of the lands rent. "The participants are numerous and varied; we find customary land chiefs, farmers with customary rights to till the land, merchants, middlemen, commune employees, district and regional government bureaucrats, and, finally, the Malian state, providing the separation of the latter's objectives from those of its servants is at all meaningful. An equally rich mix of strategies, legal and otherwise, is employed, and not just because of the multitude of objectives; in a transitional environment characterized by both legal pluralism and governmental impotence, novel ways to gain advantage thrive. "This text is exploratory, and much work remains to be done with regard to land transactions and rent appropriation in the study area; as cities in the cotton zone expand, a succession of new plots are targeted, and as one race concludes, another begins. Ultimately, however, the findings in this paper support an old lesson. As we shall see, it is mostly the wealthy, the powerful, and the informed that succeed in a race contested under such murky conditions. Although the social fallout of these processes have yet to fully settle, it is plain to see that few winners will be found among the farmers that held original rights to the land. "The information on which much of the paper is based was collected during a visit to the Malian cotton zone in February and March 2001. Besides gathering data on the particulars of 40 odd land transactions in the central part of the zone, interviews were made with district and regional officials, middlemen, land chiefs, court officials, surveyors, and researchers. The main part of the fieldwork took place in the towns of Koutiala (74 000 inhabitants) and Sikasso (114 000 inhabitants). Remaining information was obtained through official documents and literature."

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