Our country selection is theory-driven in order to provide the basis for paired comparisons. We looked for countries where processes of land commercialisation are pronounced, where our different transition scenarios can be identified, and where there is at least some evidence of a commitment to the right to food and gender equality. At the same time we need countries that are internally diverse in terms of our transition scenarios (large-scale agriculture with wage labour, contract farming, commercialisation of family farming), in terms of contemporary and historical levels of food insecurity, and in terms of gender orders (often reflected in inheritance patterns) and ethnicity. Picking countries from two different continents adds political and economic diversity among our cases that can cement the robustness of our findings.

Both Ghana and Cambodia are undergoing rapid agrarian change with considerable commercial pressure on land. For governments in both countries agricultural development is a priority and both have in place policies to encourage large-scale production. In Ghana, the dominant character of agriculture, including commercial agriculture is representative of other African countries in terms of technology and use of labour. The land tenure system is controlled mainly by customary authorities, and inheritance is both patrilineal and matrilineal. There are well-developed systems of contract farming and family farming; large-scale commercial farming is less developed than in Cambodia, but there are enough examples to compare and contrast. There is clear evidence of development processes putting pressure on land across the country, of changing land tenure, and of increasing land sales even in Northern Ghana, which has less developed land markets.

In Cambodia national policy-makers have approached agricultural development mostly from a macro-economic perspective seeking to foster growth. This has generated foreign investments in large-scale rice production and irrigation scheme in lowland provinces or around the Great Lake, and in rubber plantations in Ratanakiri and Kampong Thom. But in addition to foreign investors gaining national concessions, there are also national elites who buy or occupy land at a large scale. Agrarian change has accelerated significantly. Documented impacts seem to be uneven. While people are losing land, there is an increase in job opportunities and the emergence of improved cropping systems, with different effects on women and men. Food increasingly is provided through the market rather than through subsistence production, with new challenges especially for women, to ensure food security for their families.

Both countries have made commitments to the right to food, to gender equality, and to ending racial discrimination and are parties to the relevant UN Conventions, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and its Optional Protocol. Cambodia’s constitution provides that these treaties supersede domestic law and should be fully implemented (article 31). However, reviews of Cambodia’s commitments by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Cambodia and by the relevant treaty bodies have found violations of women’s rights and the rights of vulnerable groups in the context of large-scale land acquisitions and there is considerable agitation around the issue. Cambodia has implemented fairly progressive legal reform on gender rights and a land titling program that sets up joint titles (rather than defaulting to “head of household” title as is often the case), but has done so in a context of on-going gender based violence and broad discrimination against women.

In Ghana, gender equality is protected by the Constitution, and the Supreme Court recently confirmed that the right to food is also protected by constitutional provisions, even if implicitly. Ghana has ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and its Women’s Protocol, which recognizes women’s right to food and the obligation to ensure gender equality, and it has a National Human Rights Institution—the Commission on Human Rights and Administration of Justice, which has a broad mandate to protect human rights, including the right to food and gender equality. Ghana underwent its first Universal Periodic Review at the Human Rights Council in 2008 where NGOs raised concerns that the expansion of mining operations and the related deployment of the military and police to the mining areas has led to human rights violations, including of the right to food.