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Rising global interest in farmland: can it yield sustainable and equitable benefits?

This paper analyses issues that affect the role of agriculture as a source of economic development, rural livelihoods and environmental services. Using experiences of land expansion in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa, it assesses the extent to which recent demand for land differs from earlier processes of area expansion and identifies the current challenges, in terms of land governance, institutional capacity and communities’ awareness of their rights. The report also compares countries’ policy and legal and institutional frameworks, and identifies good practice.

The authors argue that outside investors have contributed to poverty and loss of livelihoods, for example, through displacement of local people without proper compensation, land being given away well below its potential value and approval of projects that were only feasible because of additional subsidies. The authors claim that many countries lack in institutional capacity and management of land information; official records of land acquisitions are often incomplete and there is a widespread neglect of social and environmental norms. The paper notes that deficient processes for local consultation and unclear boundary descriptions create several problems, including reduced tenure security and investment incentives, increased likelihood of conflict and difficulties in monitoring whether investors comply with agreements made with local people.

The report makes the following recommendations.

  • Civil society and the local government should educate communities about effectively exercising their rights and assist in the design, negotiation, implementation and monitoring of investment projects.
  • Protected areas must be identified to prevent encroachment and avoid negative social and environmental impacts.
  • The public sector’s capacity for processing investment applications, reducing red tape and ensuring that subsidies are clear, equally distributed, nondistortionary and incentive-compatible, needs to be improved.
  • International organisations should assist countries to integrate information and analysis on large-scale land acquisition into national strategies and offer financial and technical support for capacity building.