Main page content

Editor’s Pick: 10 Violent Land Conflicts

A growing population is driving up demand for food, while at the same time, land degradation fuelled by climate change and environmental pollution is reducing the surface available to grow crops. Large scale land acquisitions by domestic and transnational companies (“land grabbing”) further reduce pastures and farmland for local communities and spark clashes between state authorities and different communities.

The competition over dwindling land resource leads to an increasing number of land conflicts, some of them with tremendous effects, as our case studies demonstrate. But, if thoughtfully governed, such conflicts can be resolved or prevented in the first place. In this Editor’s Pick, we present 10 case studies from our interactive Factbook that analyse the relation between land and conflict.


1. Pastoralist and Farmer-Herder Conflicts in the Sahel

Conflicts between farmers and herders and between different pastoralist groups in the Sahel frequently revolve around issues of contested land use (grazing vs. crop cultivation) and access to water. At times, these conflicts are triggered, or exacerbated, by drought-induced movements of pastoralists. Livestock raiding is a further source of tensions and violence between different herding communities.


2. Climatic Change and Communal Conflicts, South Sudan

Closely linked to South Sudan's deteriorating environmental conditions, communal conflicts over land, livestock and water have played an important part in the country's troubled history. They remain a major source of political instability in this young nation. Watch our explanatory video:


3. Forest Conflicts in Cambodia

The development policy of the Cambodian government could cause deforestation, illegal-logging and land grabbing, threatening small farmers and indigenous population livelihoods. This is resulting in an increasing number of land and forest conflicts between public authorities and villagers.


4. Conservation and Conflict: The Mafia Island Marine ParkTanzania

Since the establishment of the Mafia Island Marine Park in eastern Tanzania for conservation purposes, local access to fishing grounds and other maritime resources has been restricted. As many of the park’s residents are highly dependent on these resources, a conflict has developed between Mafia Island’s residents and the park’s authorities. Some fishers refuse to accept the restrictions, which sometimes leads to arrests and violent clashes. 


5. Land Grabbing and Protests, Ethiopia

With land investment in Ethiopia intensifying due to high demand for biofuels in developed countries, local populations are being forced to leave their land and give up access to essential environmental resources and unique livelihoods – frequently without appropriate compensation from the state. These displacements have provoked strong resentment against public authorities and in some cases led to violent clashes.


6. Protests against Palm Oil in Indonesia

Increasing demand for palm oil for use in biofuels, amongst other products, has led to drastic increases in land grabbing and deforestation in Indonesia. Indigenous communities, regional and international NGOs as well as environmentalists have protested against the expansion of palm oil production in Indonesia. In some cases, community resistance has resulted in casualties. There has been little legal progress in slowing down the rates of land grabbing, displacement and deforestation. Also, take a look at our latest blog article on palm oil diplomacy.


7. Conflict over Land in the Amazon Basin, Ecuador

As is true for the entire Amazon region, the Ecuadorian Amazon region too has undergone different phases of colonization, which created land and territorial conflicts between settlers from the highlands and indigenous peoples. Meanwhile, rising interest in productive land and national development plans have further fuelled conflict: The case study shows how current infrastructure projects in the Amazon region worsen land conflicts, and reflects the complexity of resolving them in intercultural contexts.


8. Livelihood Conflicts in the Ferghana Valley, Turkmenistan

The Ferghana Valley, a single 300 km-long geographical formation, has been a source of inter-ethnic conflict since the disintegration of the USSR and the partitions made by the Central Asian republics of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The divided region is characterised by disputes over scarce water and land resources, but also tensions pertaining to borders, their changed status and control regime. Present-day strains are exacerbated by the pressures of global climate change and complex cultural and religious constellations. 


9. Land Grabbing and Protests in the Tana River Delta, Kenya

Large scale land acquisitions by Kenyan and foreign companies in Kenya’s Tana River Delta are reducing available pastures and farmland for local communities. Forced to give way to biofuel and export crops, local communities have engaged in public protests against these projects and the involved state authorities. Moreover, the reduction of available resources and the fear of forced displacements add fuel to existing land use conflicts between the Delta’s different communities. 


10. Land Conflict in the Philippines

Land distribution has been a salient issue for decades in the Philippines. In recent years though, population growth and degradation of productive land has led to increased stress and tensions between small farmers, wealthy landlords and the state.