Land observatories, discourses and struggles beyond the smokescreen: A case study in Senegal

Authors: Quentin Grislain and Jeremy Bourgoin
Published: 2023
Source: Land Use Policy

Sub-Saharan Africa is confronted with land issues such as the private appropriation of farmland, land use conflicts, and access to land for women and younger generations. These diverse issues and the promotion of evidence-based policies encourage actors in land reform to equip themselves with steering, evaluation, and monitoring tools capable of producing information to accompany decision-making processes for land policy. Land observatories are viewed as mechanisms of information production and diffusion that can inform choices and help in these processes. In this context, they also occupy a central place in the international development discourse among research institutes, national institutions, and civil society organizations. This is generally the case in Africa where the concept of land observatories has had undeniable success in the development field in recent years. This success is manifest in the establishment of national land observatories in Madagascar (2007), Cameroun (2013, 2019), South Africa and Burkina Faso (2014), Senegal (2015), Mali (2017), and Uganda (2018). Our research uses a case study in Senegal to analyze the discrepancy between the discourse and the practices surrounding land observatories and to explore the actors' games and the institutional power-plays involved in their implementation. We also discuss the ability of these instruments to actually reduce informational asymmetries, produce and share knowledge, and improve land governance. In order to examine the reality of the land observatories rather than what they pretend to be or do, we have developed a qualitative research approach which combines the perspectives of science and technology studies, political geography, and the sociology of public action.

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