The rapidly increasing interest of foreign investors in land in the global South, also termed land grabbing, has been widely discussed as potentially supportive, but often rather harmful for local populations. Combining a critical livelihoods perspective with access theory and a bargaining model, this study scrutinizes local people’s perceptions of the land investments, power relations during land negotiations and intra-community differences. By analysing two European forestry companies in Tanzania, we have chosen a sector and a country with presumably more positive outcomes for local populations. The deals resulted in not only labour opportu- nities and infrastructural improvements, which are mainly perceived as positive, but also cases of violated land rights, inadequate compensation and decreased food security. Hence, even under favourable preconditions, the consequences for local people are ambivalent. With this study, we contribute to a differentiated analysis of the contested role of large-scale land deals in contemporary rural development.