Academic journal article Africa

Family Values, Land Sales and Agricultural Commodification in South-Eastern Ghana

Academic journal article Africa

Family Values, Land Sales and Agricultural Commodification in South-Eastern Ghana

Article excerpt


It is argued that land shortage and the decline of new frontier areas results in increasing conflicts over rights to land and to labour. This constrains land sales and agricultural land becomes increasingly transferred though sharecropping and the commodification of user rights in land, rather than through the evolution of clearly defined land markets. Smallholder agriculture increasingly becomes an individual undertaking, in which labour is hired, and rights to land are acquired rather than allocated within the family. Agricultural relations of production become increasingly commodified and the moral economy of the family is undermined and increasingly socially differentiated. The article traces historically the emergence of these production relations in south-east Ghana.


L'article soutient que le manque de terre et la rarefaction des nouvelles terres cultivables generent des conflits en matiere de droit a Ia terre et de droit au travail. Cette situation restreint les ventes de terres, et le transfert de terrains agricoles se fait de pius en pius souvent par le biais du metayage et de Ia marchandisation des droits d'utilisation des terres, plutot qu'a travers l'evolution de marches fonciers clairement definis. Les petites exploitations sont de plus en pius nombreuses a prendre la forme d'entreprises individuelles qui emploient des ouvriers et acquierent le droit a Ia terre (autrefois octroye au sein de la famille). Les relations de production dans l'agriculture sont de pius en pius marchandisees et l'economie morale de Ia famille esr fragilisee et de pius en pius marquee par une differenciation sociale. L'article retrace l'historique de l'emergence de ces relations de production dans le Sud-Est du Ghana.


In the evolutionary theory of property rights, customary land tenure arrangements in Africa are seen as gradually evolving towards more individualized property rights and transactions of land on open markets, as population increases and land becomes scarce. This is seen as leading to the evolution of atomistic family farms, freely buying and selling land on markets according to their needs and changing resource endowments (Binswanger and Deininger 1993; Deininger 2003). The evolutionary theory of property rights tends to downplay political and power relations, and the extent to which dominant policies shape land relations. An effect of the policy discourse on transforming land relations is to present the interventions that dominant policy interests seek to initiate as natural, and as an integral part of the next stage in evolutionary development. This tends to present the story of those able to secure and alienate land in collusion with dominant political interests and policies, while it neglects the perspectives of the losers and their disillusionment with the contemporary world (Amanor 2008).

This article is concerned with the contestation of rights to land and labour and the construction of customary land tenure in the forest region of Ghana from the nineteenth century to present. It argues that the processes of commodification that underlie this contestation have resulted in a decline of 'family farms', in which farming is conducted by various combinations of husband, wives and children. There has been a corresponding emergence of individual farming in which farmers increasingly rely on hired labour, and in which sharecropping relations increasingly replace inheritance of land for a growing section of the population. This commodification of agriculture tends to undermine the moral economy of the family, which becomes increasingly fragmented and embroiled in disputes and contestation of what constitutes custom (Amanor 2007, 2001). These conflicts are overlooked within the evolutionary property rights school and the dominant neo-liberal land policies they inspire, since they assume and are predicated upon notions of a harmonious evolution to an unproblematic family farm. …

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