Impact of transnational land acquisitions on local food security and dietary diversity

Marc F. Müller*, Gopal Penny, Meredith T. Niles, Vincent Ricciardi, Davide Danilo Chiarelli, Kyle Frankel Davis, Jampel Dell’Angelo, Paolo D’Odorico, Lorenzo Rosa, Maria Cristina Rulli, Nathaniel D. Mueller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Foreign investors have acquired approximately 90 million hectares of land for agriculture over the past two decades. The effects of these investments on local food security remain unknown. While additional cropland and intensified agriculture could potentially increase crop production, preferential targeting of prime agricultural land and transitions toward export-bound crops might affect local access to nutritious foods. We test these hypotheses in a global systematic analysis of the food security implications of existing land concessions. We combine agricultural, remote sensing, and household survey data (available in 11 sub-Saharan African countries) with georeferenced information on 160 land acquisitions in 39 countries. We find that the intended changes in cultivated crop types generally imply transitions toward energy-rich, but nutrient-poor, crops that are predominantly destined for export markets. Specific impacts on food production and access vary substantially across regions. Deals likely have little effect on food security in eastern Europe and Latin America, where they predominantly occur within agricultural areas with current export-oriented crops, and where agriculture would have both expanded and intensified regardless of the land deals. This contrasts with Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where deals are associated with both an expansion and intensification (in Asia) of crop production. Deals in these regions also shift production away from local staples and coincide with a gradually decreasing dietary diversity among the surveyed households in sub-Saharan Africa. Together, these findings point to a paradox, where land deals can simultaneously increase crop production and threaten local food security.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020535118
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number4
Early online date18 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Dr. Sandra Eckert and Mokganedi Tatlhego for their help in the visual analysis. We also thank Taylor Ricketts and Brendan Fisher for their assistance with the dietary diversity dataset. We acknowledge financial support from the US NSF under Grant ICER 1824951 (M.F.M and G.P.) and the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center under funding received from the NSF (Grants DBI-1639145 and DBI-1052875). The dietary diversity data and analysis was made possible through funding from the US Department of Agriculture Hatch Program (Grant VT-H02303, Accession no. 1010486), and from the Biodiversity Results and Integrated Development Gains Enhanced Program of the USAID, and the Luc Hoffman Institute at WWF International under funding from the Mava Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Agriculture
  • Cropland
  • Food systems
  • Land deals
  • Nutrition


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