A significant step is being taken today in the fight against land grabs, as the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation adopts a new set of guidelines on land tenure
The guidelines come in response to the massive increase in land grabbing that is blighting developing countries, with Africa hit the hardest.
Foreign land investment is among the five global trends singled out in the latest Africa Progress Report, produced by a panel of eminent people under the chair of Kofi Anan. While the panel welcomes progress on many fronts, on land grabs, it doesn't mince its words:
‘There is no question that Africa needs investment – private and public – in agriculture. What Africa does not need, and cannot afford, is policies that transfer land to investors motivated principally by a concern to feed populations in other countries, supply biofuel markets across the globe, or to secure speculative profit.’
Confirming ActionAid's own experiences on the ground, Kofi Anan’s Panel highlights a number of typical characteristic of land acquisition contracts in Africa:
• Leases are typically provided at very low levels of rent with extensive tax exemptions.
• Investors are seldom required to provide employment opportunities for local communities or to contract with smallholder farmers.
• The contracts are usually drawn up and negotiated behind closed doors without consultations with affected communities, social and environmental assessments, or subsequent requirements for audits.
• There are no food-security safeguards requiring leaseholders to sell food products in local markets during periods of high food prices.
These issues hit women the hardest. The new UN guidelines should help to address them. And as such ActionAid welcomes their adoption, and is calling upon governments to implement the guidelines as soon as possible.
But the guidelines are not binding on countries. And critically, they try to reduce the impacts of foreign land investment, rather than tackling the underlying drivers, including the presence of biofuel mandates.
At ActionAid, we are firmly of the view that unless biofuel mandates are removed, the guidelines can never be expected to make a significant difference. If you agree, sign our petition