This measured book summarizes the extent of what is known about the recent evolution of the commercial market for land in sub-Saharan Africa -- which is to say, very little. Urbanization and population growth, combined with the global boom in commodity and food prices, have increased the value of land on the world’s least densely populated continent. The ambiguity of land titles and the weakness of property rights in the region provide openings for corrupt governments and avaricious local chiefs to wheel and deal with local and international investors. The losers in such arrangements are usually poor local populations who see their land expropriated without adequate compensation. Beyond those basic facts, the book offers mostly conjecture. Cotula concedes that no one really knows the total amount of land that has been sold since the supposed boom began during the last decade. Although a small number of massive land purchases by foreign governments and multinationals have made headlines and have led to an outraged narrative of “land grabbing,” Cotula cites one study suggesting that a majority of the confirmed sales have gone to local investors and involved parcels no larger than 210 acres.
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