Rental markets good for land owner’s protection

Tuesday November 16 2010

Mr Schutter

Mr Schutter 

By Dorothy Nakaweesi

Large-scale purchases of farmland in Africa, Asia and Latin America have become a big story. With one billion people hungry worldwide and rising food prices, land is being bought by foreign investors in hundreds of thousands of hectares in developing countries. Dorothy Nakaweesi caught up with, Prof. Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

Previously, developed economies had embarked on stringent policies to limit African agricultural produce into their economies. However, they are currently acquring African land in order to satisfy their food demand back home. What is your take on this?
Most of these investments occur with a complete lack of transparency and without proper consultation of the local communities concerned.
These land giveaways will benefit investors and perhaps some of the local elites - but they will create much less employment and contribute much less to rural development.

Many land investors come to Africa with the promise of creating jobs through agricultural development and often poor African governments bow to these investors. What can African governments do to remain in control once these investors have secured their right to the land and how can private land owners be protected?
Often, landowners are being lured with money. This is why I am skeptical about protecting land users through titling schemes that lead to the creation of a market for land rights.
There are other, more effective ways to protect security of tenure, without the risk of encouraging re-concentration of land as it often happens with titling schemes. Anti-eviction laws, laws protecting tenants and favouring land rental markets are far preferable.

Are there policy options whereby foreign investors could supply the local food markets first, and then turn to export?
There is a delicate balance to be found between ensuring that the food produced locally serves to improve local food security, rather than being shipped abroad, and the need to ensure that the development of large plantations will not lead to “internal dumping”, and to disruption on the local markets, leading to a loss of revenue for the local farmers.
Investment contracts should at a minimum contain clauses that, based on the development of local food production and prices, ensure that this balance is respected.

What can developing countries do to get that balance right?
Unfortunately, there are more bad practices than good practices around. I urge the international human rights bodies to carefully scrutinise what is happening, and to recognise the links between access to land and rights such as the right to food, the right to housing, and the right to work.
Land does not go to the most efficient producers, it goes to those who have capital and who can afford it. The result if things are left unchecked will be more inequality and poverty.

What are the implications of selling land to foreigners for Africa?
I welcome the fact that the AU States are working towards the implementation of the AU Framework and Guidelines for land policy, it is vital that they join their efforts, in order to strengthen their position vis-à-vis foreign investors in particular, and to accelerate learning from best practices, such as low-cost registration of land for the land users (as in Ethiopia or Madagascar), and reliance on customary forms of tenure for the protection of pastoralists and other populations who depend on communal rights. Selling land to outside investors is the least desirable option.

It is interesting that you prefer anti-land-eviction laws. However, a big portion of land in Africa is privately held. So how effective can such laws be?
Anti-eviction laws should protect the land users, who often are not formally the owners of the land they cultivate. Only under certain, strictly defined conditions, should it be acceptable to evict people from land that they depend on for their livelihoods. Anti-eviction laws and tenancy laws - implying a disaggregation of property rights - are preferable to protect land users who in many cases till land that is formally owned by others or (in many parts of rural Africa) by the State.

As France, a country with a significant agricultural lobby, is taking over the G20 Presidency, what would you like to see on the land grab issue over the next six to 12 months?
I think the G20 is less well positioned than the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), in which developing countries are better represented, to address this issue.
Once the CFS will have achieved a consensus, which I hope it can, that should be taken into account by others, including the World Bank (whose Foreign Investment Advisory Services, for instance, still encourages countries to cut down the red tape to facilitate investment, which is very problematic), and countries from which investors originate.

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