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19.05.2011 - 02.06.2011

Second HLPE Consultation on Land Tenure and International Investments in Agriculture

The thirty-sixth session of Committee on World Food Security, held in Rome in October 2010, asked the newly created High Level Panel of Experts to undertake a study, to be presented at the 37th session of the CFS, on aligning international agricultural investment with food security concerns. The present document is the first version (V0) of the study. It has been prepared by a Project Team: Camilla Toulmin (Team Leader), Jun Borras (The Philippines), Prem Bindraban (The Netherlands), Sergio Sauer (Brazil) and Esther Mwangi (Kenya). We actively seek inputs and suggestions for evidence and further references from consultees.

The HLPE has asked that we examine three areas in particular:

  • the respective roles of large-scale plantations and of small-scale farming, including economic, social, gender and environmental impacts;
  • review of the existing tools allowing the mapping of available land;
  • comparative analysis of tools to align large scale investments with country food security strategies.

Given the scale and pace of international investment in agriculture, and its potential for generating positive or negative consequences for large numbers of people, our task is very challenging. There are grounds for serious concern that international investment in agricultural land is being undertaken in haste, without sufficient information or thought to longer term implications. We need to consider not only what has been experienced to date, but also the likely trends in competition for scarce land and water resources that we will see over the next 30-40 years. The instruments put in place now, and the best practice models followed could bring a very substantial improvement to the livelihoods of millions, if the right pathway is followed.

We seek feedback on:

  • the range and role of land use surveys at global and regional levels; and the basis for differing estimates of productivity increases in different places, assessment of the yield gap, and where marginal or idle land is situated
  • whether and why there might be differences between international and domestic investment. Is this due, for example, to asymmetries in power and resources, the power of international vs. national law, or role of investment promotion agencies competing for this inflow of investment?
  • remedies for the weakness of smallholder farmer representation or broader civil society action in many countries into which this investment is flowing, which means they have little ability to hold to account those international investors or their governments acting on their behalf. Are there good examples of where farmers and their representatives have been able to get their interests heard more effectively and built into deals?
  • what information and incentives are guiding the choice of investment models ? And how to ensure investment decisions are made in more open fashion, with greater consideration of broader social and environmental concerns, in the short and longer term?
  • given overall weaknesses in land tenure governance, including law enforcement, limited community consultation and a tendency to re-centralize control over land and resources in the wake of large-scale investments, are there useful lessons from other transparency initiatives?

The agricultural investment debate has been the arena for a renewed battle of ideologies, the one seeing “modernisation of agriculture” as requiring a major shift in scale of production, while the other extols the merits of smallholder farming systems. As with all dichotomies, there is a need to avoid a false polarisation, and seek common ground, if possible. We actively seek to identify the main basis for different perspectives and seek to build bridges between differing positions, where feasible.

The emerging evidence from current patterns of international investment in agricultural land strongly suggests that to date the assumed benefits in terms of local employment and livelihood opportunities have not been forthcoming. Investors appear to be targeting countries in which land governance is weak and, thus, governments feel free to allocate large areas with little or no consultation. However, we also see that many of the proposed projects have not yet been implemented so it is too early to assess the scale of costs and benefits accruing to different groups.

Consequently, we urgently need to see evidence from international agricultural investments that have been in place for 10-20 years, where a clear stream of costs and benefits can be demonstrated. Understanding the process by which these projects were designed, the outcomes, and the incentives faced by different interest groups – both corporate and governmental – would be very helpful.

This consultation will benefit from parallel debate underway on price volatility, and an assessment of the extent to which speculative behaviour is driving market prices, rather than the fundamentals of demand and supply. There may be some valuable lessons from speculation in the urban sphere on which to build.

We thank in advance all the contributors for being kind enough to read and comment on this early version of our report. Supplementary information and references are very welcome. We look forward for a rich and fruitful consultation.

Camilla Toulmin
Jun Borras (The Philippines)
Prem Bindraban (The Netherlands)
Sergio Sauer (Brazil)
Esther Mwangi (Kenya)

This discussion is now closed. Please contact fsn-moderator@fao.org for any further information.