Land for Agricultural Development in the Era of 'Land Grabbing': A Spatial Exploration of the 'Marginal Lands' Narrative in Contemporary Ethiopia

"In response to concerns over the potential of land leases for new agricultural projects to displace rural populations and impact food security, the Ethiopian government asserts that only ‘marginal’, ‘barren’ or ‘wasteland’ is being leased to investors. This paper draws on a wide variety of source material in order to untangle the land classification of ‘marginal’ land as it is used colloquially across Ethiopian institutional and policy environments and compares this promoted understanding of marginality to the socio-cultural and biophysical characteristics of actual land areas either already transferred to investors or currently deposited in the federal ‘land bank’ to be allocated at a future time. This analysis reveals that ‘marginal’ lands are not unused and/or degraded as often implied but are potentially productive lands that overlap national park boundaries or are currently supporting nomadic and semi-nomadic livelihoods. In addition, this paper contends that marginal lands are not categorized according to any shared criteria, but applied to the lands in weaker regions that are not being put to highest value use according to the state’s market-oriented developmental strategy."