Much of the literature on the ‘land grab’ has thus far focused on the international drivers of foreign agricultural investment, with far less attention paid to the roles of developing country states and domestic political economy in changing forms of agrarian production. This paper analyses how global and domestic processes combine to produce patterns of agrarian transformation in Ethiopia, one of the main targets of foreign agricultural investment. The paper presents a typology of changes in land use and examines in detail three case studies of investments in Ethiopia drawn from this typology. The paper concludes that the most dramatic changes are taking place in lowland, peripheral regions where large-scale, capital-intensive farms employing wage labour pose a serious risk to pastoralists whose ‘use’ of land is contested by the state. Although the government has been careful to avoid mass displacement of settled smallholders, there are also important changes taking place in highland areas, with the government encouraging investments that combine the resources of investors with the labour and land of smallholders. These investments have resulted in exposure to new forms of market risk.