Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

OPENING REMARKS

by

Hiroyuki Konuma
Assistant Director-General and
Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific

delivered at the

2nd ILC Asia Steering Committee Meeting

8 April 2010
Bangkok, Thailand

 





Dear ILC members,
Ladies and gentlemen,

          It is my pleasure to be invited by ANGOC to address this 2d Asia Steering Committee Meeting of the International Land Coalition in Bangkok.

          Since many years FAO has been closely involved with the work of ILC, a global alliance of civil society and intergovernmental organizations working together to promote secure and equitable access to and control over land for poor women and men through advocacy, dialogue and capacity building. We also share your view that fair and sustainable access to land and natural resources for the poor is complex and raises many questions. Dialogue is needed to resolve land issues that are both technical and highly sensitive, politically and socially. Forming alliances and working together remains a fundamental approach in addressing land issues.

          In this connection, I should like to recall that two days after the last World Food Summit in Rome last year, representatives from fifteen organizations gathered in Rome for a two-day meeting on the development of a global web portal aimed at improving access to reliable information on land and natural resources. The Land Portal is a dynamic, decentralized and participatory tool that will help aggregate available, but sometimes dispersed, information on access to land and make it available to a wide range of users. Partners in the initiative acknowledge that access to reliable information is crucial for improving national land policies in countries around the world. FAO is optimistic that the Land Portal will certainly contribute to improved land policies and programmes and will continue to push for land to be central in the international policy agenda.

Ladies and gentlemen,

          Allow me now to turn to your meeting today and, in particular Agenda Item 2 on priority areas and targets for 2010.

          We are all well aware that the world is experiencing a grain rush. With increasing frequency, wealthy, food-importing, and water-scarce countries—particularly the Arab Gulf states and the rich countries of East Asia—are investing in farmland overseas to meet food security needs. Similarly, the private sector is pursuing farmland deals abroad, with many investors perceiving land as a safe investment in an otherwise shaky financial climate. This run on agricultural land has been described as a new phase of the world food crisis.

          These investments are sparking both hopes and fears. Some believe the deals can boost global agricultural productivity and farm yields, thereby bringing down global grain costs. Others, however, point to the troubling questions raised by the land acquisitions, particularly in terms of impacts on small farmers, their land, and their livelihoods.

          In this connection, FAO emphasizes that the lack of investment in agriculture over decades has meant continuing low productivity and stagnant production in many developing countries. This lack of investment has been identified as an important underlying cause of the recent food crisis and the difficulties developing countries encountered in dealing with it. Additional investments of at least $30 billion annually are needed in developing country agriculture.

          Developing countries’ capacity to fill that gap is limited and the share of official development assistance going to agriculture has trended downwards over the years to as little as five percent. Foreign direct investment has an important potential role to play, therefore in financing agricultural investments in developing countries. In general terms, the apparent recent surge in interest in international investment in agriculture should be welcomed rather than condemned.

          The motivation for the recent spate of interest is food security and a fear on the part of certain food importing countries arising from the recent high food prices and policy-induced supply shocks that dependence on world markets for foods supplies has become more risky. The much-publicized “land grab” involving the purchase or leasing of agricultural land in developing countries for food production is just one form of investment. At the same time, a number of developing countries are making strenuous efforts to attract such investments to exploit “surplus” land. Recent developments could mark the beginning of a profound change in the pattern and nature of global food production and land use.

          While such investments should not be rejected in principle there are risks for the host developing country and they raise complex and controversial issues – economic, political, institutional, legal and ethical - in relation to food security, agricultural investment, agricultural development and land tenure and transfer. It is important that any international investment should bring development benefits to the receiving country in terms of technology transfer, employment creation, upstream and downstream linkages and so on. In this way, these investments can be “win-win” rather than “neo-colonialism”. However, these beneficial flows are not automatic: care must be taken in the formulation of investment contracts and appropriate legislative and policy frameworks need to be in place to ensure that development benefits are obtained. The case for an international code of conduct which highlights the need for transparency, stakeholder involvement and sustainability and emphasized concerns for domestic food security and rural development needs to be explored.
 There is an urgent need to monitor the extent, nature and impacts of international investments and to catalogue best practices in law and policy to better inform both host and investing countries. Detailed impact analysis is needed to assess whether an international code of conduct is desirable and what its content should be. The scope for forms of investment other than land acquisition – such as contract farming, out-grower schemes and other joint ventures - and which are more likely to yield development benefits to host countries needs to be evaluated and best practices promoted.

          If foreign direct investment is to play an effective role in filling the investment gap facing developing country agriculture, there is a need to reconcile the investment objectives of investing countries with the investment needs of developing countries. Investment priorities need to be identified in a comprehensive and coherent investment strategy and efforts made to identify the most effective measures to promote the matching-up of capital to opportunities and needs.

Ladies and gentlemen,

          In conclusion, I should like to add that FAO has begun widespread consultations over the first ever international guidelines on governance of tenure to land and other natural resources such as water supplies, fisheries and forests.

          The consultations and negotiations, responding to requests from the international community and from governments, will take more than a year to complete.

          They will involve governments, the private sector, poor farmers, indigenous groups, local authorities, academia and independent experts and will be led by a secretariat based at FAO headquarters. 

          Secure access to land is seen as a key condition to improving food security of some of the world’s poorest people. But FAO is taking the lead in this exercise because secure land access is the best safety-net for the poor, and because good governance of land is a necessary condition for secure land access and land tenure rights.  
 
          Rest me to wish you fruitful discussions and a successful outcome of your 2 days meeting. At the same time, let me assure you about FAO's commitment to work with ILC as a member. For Asia and the Pacific, FAO is interested and willing to pursue land rights and sustainable agriculture towards food security to the extent possible, both at country and regional level.

          Thank you.