Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The Land Matrix defines a land deal as any intended, concluded, or failed attempt to acquire land through purchase, lease, or concession for agricultural production, timber extraction, carbon trading, industry, renewable energy production, conservation, and tourism in low- and middle-income countries. 

The Global Observatory includes deals that: 

  • Entail a transfer of rights to use, control or ownership of land through sale, lease or concession; 
  • Have been initiated since the year 2000; 
  • Cover an area of 200 hectares or more; 
  • Imply the potential conversion of land from smallholder production, local community use or important ecosystem service provision to commercial use.

In some cases, regional and national criteria may differ from the global set if agreed to by the organisation(s) coordinating it, for example, the amount of area covered.

Investor: The individual, company, including investment funds, or state agency that acquires land. The primary investor is the entity directly engaged in the land deal, while the secondary investor is the entity that partly or wholly funds or owns the primary investor.

Target country: The country in which land is acquired.

Investor country: The country from which the investor originates, which is the same as the target country if it is a domestic investor. Investors may be private actors, governments, or government-backed private actors.

There are two key variables to describe the status of a land deal: negotiation and implementation. Although these two variables are linked (in principle, a contract needs to be signed before a project can enter the start-up phase), they are independent in our database, and various combinations are possible for different projects.  

The negotiation status includes the following states:


  • Expression of interest
  • Under negotiation
  • Memorandum of Understanding


  • Oral agreement
  • Contract signed


  • Negotiations failed
  • Contract cancelled


  • Contract expired
  • Change of ownership

Note that the default settings for the Global Observatory include only the subset of data referring to concluded and transnational deals, unless the user changes the filters. Default settings on regional and national pages might differ (see “What are the default settings?”).

The implementation status includes the following states:

  • Project not started
  • Start-up phase (no production)
  • In operation (production)
  • Project abandoned

Please note that there are abandoned projects where concession contracts have been terminated but for which there is no information. These deals are therefore still categorised as "concluded deals", although all operations on the ground have been abandoned and thus the business project can be considered as failed.

To ensure quality and prevent duplications, a deal has to contain a minimum level of information to reflect on the Land Matrix public database:

  • Location: At least the country of the potential land acquisition
  • Investor name: At least the name of one investor
  • Data source: At least one data source has to be provided
  • Deal size: At least one size variable

If any one of these is not provided, the deal will be stored in the database for further research but not shown on the public interface.

Three different variables are used to measure the area of a deal:

  1. Intended size [ha]: The area that was formerly or is currently intended to be acquired by the investor. In many cases, this is the area size announced before or during the negotiation phase of an investment. However, it may also reflect the intention of future expansion.
  2. Size under contract (leased or purchased area) [ha]: The size of the area that was leased, purchased or taken under concession by the investor.
  3. Size in operation (production) [ha]: The size of the area that was taken into regular operation by the investor. 

The current negotiation status of a deal determines which size variable is used for the aggregated figures and visualisations:

Variables for measuring deals.PNG

Contract farming refers to pre-agreed supply contracts between farmers and buyers for the supply of agricultural produce. Contract farming arrangements vary widely depending on countries, crops and companies, but generally can be located either inside or outside of the land acquired by an investor. As the land used by contract farmers outside the area of a land acquisition does not change its tenure status, we do not include this land in our aggregate figures of land acquisitions. However, we do provide separate figures within the CHART section. Pure contract farming does not involve the acquisition of land by investors. Cases of pure contract farming are currently not recorded systematically.

Mining and logging deals generally involve a concession which does not include land ownership. Instead, it gives the holder a limited right to operate on the land for a specific purpose.

Because of the speed at which the status of existing and potential land deals changes and the scarcity of readily available information, we give preference to primary information sources over publicly available reports. We use a number of strategies to collect data, including:

  • Leveraging partner networks of key resource individuals and organisations in host countries, through which data is increasingly being collected by a decentralised team of regional and national coordinators, research assistants, experts, and NGOs.
  • Fostering links with public, private, and civil society stakeholders in order to increase the quality of information.
  • Crowdsourcing, by enabling users to submit details on a deal. Please note, we verify sources before we publish them in the database, and changes may not be reflected immediately. Comments made on existing deals remain on the website, unless the deal is removed from the database.
  • Reviewing research papers and policy reports by international and local organisations and NGOs, field-based research projects, official government records, company websites and publications such as annual reports, and media reports.

Depending on the scope of the analysis, data might be aggregated in different ways. Caution should be exercised regarding the negotiation and implementation status and their respective size variables. Furthermore, potential biases should be taken into account (see “Are there biases in the data?”).

Handling multiple investors: For cases with multiple investors or where we do not have sufficient information on the individual investor shares, we account the full size to each foreign investor involved. We can then interpret this as the total size of all projects in which an investor is involved.

Deal size logic: The size of a deal is computed using the best information available. For example, if a deal has only information on “Size under operation” and no information on “Size under contract”, we will assume that the “Size under operation” corresponds at least to the “Size under contract”. The same holds for the “Intended size”, which might be replaced by the “Size under contract” or the “Size under operation” if missing.

The Land Matrix data management team keep links to websites where deals are reported, as well as screenshots of all websites containing applicable information, as these change over time. We also store pdf documents and all relevant pages of data sources for further reference to the database, unless the article is held in an open accessible and reliable database (such as open access journal).

Data around land deals is constantly evolving, and with it, the information in the Land Matrix, which is a live database. However, in line with our goal of ensuring data quality and accuracy, we continually review the database to update existing deals, add new deals, and identify erroneous entries and deals that do not to fit the data parameters (see “What is a land deal?”). Nevertheless, despite all efforts, the data will never be entirely error-free. The aggregate figures, for example, are likely to be a significant underestimation of the scale of land deals, as only limited research has been undertaken in many countries.

With your contributions, the dataset can become more accurate over time. Contact us to provide information on existing and new deals.

The way in which the extent of land acquisitions is quantified can deviate significantly due to differing definitions and parameters, such as how the term “large-scale land acquisition” is classified, or what time-frame, size, and logic is used for aggregation. See “What is a land deal” for the criteria we use to define a land deal.

Investing in decentralised data collection has proved to be successful. The core partners and the regional focal points have successfully established a broad network in the different regions to obtain information and to have it cross-checked by experts, individuals working in government, the private sector, Civil Society Organisations and interested members of the public on the ground.

Data is collected in a “snowball sourcing” manner.  One source serves as a starting point for further investigation. The majority of the deals reported are based on two or more sources, while others have between three and seven sources. This information increasingly allows for the “triangulation” of data, where using a variety of sources can significantly improve data quality.

Due to the speed at which the status of existing and potential land deals changes and the scarcity of readily available information, primary information sources are given preference over publicly available reports. Several strategies are being used to enable this:

  1. First, the provision of tools to enable crowdsourcing from the public is enhanced, together with a more accurate data management system.
  2. Second, partner networks of key resource individuals and organisations in host countries are being established. Data is collected increasingly through a decentralised team of research assistants, experts and NGOs. Using the data sources described above, regional coordinators are developing a network of information sources to collect and check information.
  3. The Regional partner for Asia (AFA), Central Asia (JASIL), Africa (University of Pretoria) and Eastern Europe (Ecoaction) are in charge of data collection through a network of country data contributors and of data validation and review of existing and new land deals added to the database. 
  4. Through the links to national observatories, more data will be collected in those countries and the quality of the data will be improved. 

As the Land Matrix database continue to mature, increased and improved data verification from different data sources (company information, official data, civil society reports and research data) becomes possible. Land Matrix partners take into account the promotion of engagements by governments and investors listed in the database, requesting their feedback and allowing responses to be posted online.

We encourage users to submit details on a deal, but verify the information before we publish it in the database. Changes may not be reflected immediately. Users may also add three comment to existing deals. These comments remain on the website, unless the deal is removed from the database. Beyond providing information on single deals, users can share a dataset of deals for inclusion in the database, which we will cross-check before included it.

Users have access to all deals in the database that meet the minimum information criteria (see “What minimum information criteria must a deal meet?”). However, the Global Observatory has the following default settings, which can easily be changed to include more or less deals:

  • Only concluded deals, i.e. intended and failed deals are excluded
  • Only foreign investors, i.e. domestic investors are excluded
  • From all sources

Please note that different default settings might be applied on regional and national pages. The size of a deal is computed using the best available information. For example, if a deal has only information on “Size under operation” and no information on “Intended size”, we will assume that the “Size under operation” corresponds to “Intended size” (see “How is data aggregated?”).

Data is made freely available under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may download infographics, the entire dataset, or filtered parts of it, and are free to share (copy, distribute and transmit) or remix (adapt) the work on condition you attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

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