Ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of FAO, I wish to welcome you all to this Expert consultation on agricultural investments and access to land. I am pleased and honoured that the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific is hosting the Expert Consultation – further bearing witness to our continued cooperation in this area of great importance to the people of Asia and the Pacific.
I warmly welcome our partners, colleagues and friends joining us from many countries of the region to this event with our common aims to identify key issues and principles related to agricultural investments and access to land, to share experiences and best practices stemming from the field, and to assist in the drafting of an Implementation Guide.
Land is one of the main economic, social and cultural assets of poor rural women and men. Land is a source of food and shelter; a basis for social, cultural and religious practices; and a factor of economic production. Above all land sustains livelihoods, traditional eco-systems and cultural heritage through agriculture and related activities such as livestock, forestry and fisheries.
For several decades now, the agricultural sector in low-income countries has suffered from serious underinvestment, with considerable consequences for long-term food security and development. Additional investments of $83 billion annually are needed in agriculture if developing countries are to meet their food needs in 2050. Despite of this challenge, official development assistance and the national budgets of developing countries have limited ability to fill in this gap. Therefore, accelerating investments including those from the private sector, and from smallholder farmers themselves, are vital to lift productivity, close yield gaps and generate rural employment.
Over the past three years, we have witnessed new investments in agriculture taking place around the world. The most recently published data by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement (CIRAD) and the International Land Coalition (ILC) from December 2011 indicate that land deals reported as approved or under negotiation worldwide between 2000 and 2010 correspond to 203 million hectares. This land area is equivalent to four times the size of Thailand. Of this the majority is for agricultural production and the remainder for mineral extraction, industry, tourism and forest conversion.
As increased levels of investments are critically important to reduce the long-prevailing deficit of engagements, they have heightened demands and pressures on land and placed tensions on land tenure systems. In some cases, these investments may have been made at the expense of the land rights of poor men and women. As the IIED, CIRAD and ILC report indicated, the best land is often being targeted for acquisition. It is often irrigable, with proximity to infrastructure, making conflict with existing land users.
While FAO continues to advocate that investments in agriculture are essential, they need to be responsible, protect the rights and benefits of land users and owners with a specific attention to the poor, and serve the interests of sustainable development of local communities.
FAO is engaged in three global initiatives that address these challenges both in investing countries and in those that host these investments.
- First, FAO is leading an initiative to develop Voluntary guidelines on responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests in the context of national food security. The Voluntary Guidelines are currently being negotiated by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). Upon adoption, the Voluntary Guidelines will provide guidance to states, civil society and the private sector by setting out principles and internationally accepted standards and practices for responsible governance of tenure. By stimulating transparency and effectiveness of land institutions and land tenure practices, the Voluntary Guidelines are designed to help to improve the way in which transactions for land investments are assessed, negotiated, and implemented – both directly and indirectly. The Voluntary Guidelines will be complemented by practice orientated Implementation Guides. One of these guides under preparation is dedicated to Agricultural Investments and Access to Land.
- Second, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is working towards a consultation process for the development and broader ownership of the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI) that enhance food security and nutrition. This is expected to be initiated after the approval of the Voluntary Guidelines and will take into account existing frameworks such as the Voluntary Guidelines and the RAI principles developed by FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Bank and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
The development of the Voluntary guidelines on governance of tenure and the Principles for responsible agricultural investment is directly related to the mandate of FAO to lead international efforts to defeat hunger.
In Asia and the Pacific, FAO has led the dialogue on governance of tenure and on investments with the objective of protecting resource-poor farmers and rural dwellers. In 2009 and 2010 Regional consultation meetings on the Voluntary guidelines on governance of tenure were organized in Viet Nam and in Samoa, and a civil society consultation was held in Malaysia.
FAO also continues to work on the issue of agricultural investments in the Asia-Pacific region. This has been an important agenda item in different regional fora and conferences that have brought together government representatives and civil society alike. Being committed to an inclusive process, FAO has also mobilized resources to involve civil society in several high level governmental mechanisms.
The objective of this Expert Consultation starting today is to set a basis for the development of an Implementation Guide on Agricultural Investments and Access to Land. The guide will be developed through three regional expert consultations in different region of which this meeting in Bangkok is the first one.
We are glad to see a variety of stakeholders present here today including representatives of governments, private sector, farmers organizations, civil society and academia. We hope that together we will be able to build a better understanding of the various faces and modes of agricultural investments and their impacts on access to land. This Expert Consultation will be an occasion to identify key issues, principles and approaches, share experiences and best practices, gather feedback on the contents of the Implementation Guide and obtain assistance in the drafting of the guide.
Finally, I wish to express our appreciation to your active participation and your willingness to share your technical knowledge and expertise. I wish to stress the importance of our constructive dialogue and spirit of true partnership for mutual understanding and consensus building.
This Expert Consultation is possible thanks to the generous support received from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. I wish to express our deep gratitude to our donors and to all of you who share your time for the benefit of this meeting. I wish you all a highly successful event.