Land grab or development opportunity? Agricultural investment and international land deals in Africa

Land grab or development opportunity? Agricultural investment and international land deals in Africa

Is large-scale private land acquisition beneficial to Africa?

Over 2008 large-scale acquisitions of farmland in Africa, Latin America, Central Asia and Southeast Asia have increased. This report discusses key trends and drivers in land acquisitions, the contractual arrangements underpinning them and the way these are negotiated. It also analyses the early impacts on land access for rural people in recipient countries with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa.

The paper discusses the factors that underpin land acquisitions, which include: food security concerns due to limited available water and arable land; bottlenecks in storage and distribution; and the expansion of biofuel production. For people in recipient countries, land aquisition creates both risks and opportunities. Increased investment may bring macro-level benefits and may create opportunities for economic development and livelihood improvement in rural areas. However, large-scale land acquisitions may result in local people losing access to the resources on which they depend for their food security.

The authors argue that many countries do not have legal mechanisms in place to protect local rights and take account of local interests, livelihoods and welfare. Lack of transparency is characteristic in many host countries as well as vaguely defined productive use of land, legislative gaps, and compensation limited to loss of improvements like crops and trees. These all undermine the position of local people.

It is noted that recommendations for policy and practice can only be tentative at this stage as land deals take many different forms and proceed in a wide diversity of contexts. This diversity means that recommendations need to be tailored to their contexts; therefore, the authors give recommendations to different stakeholders.

To investors:

  • adopt innovative business models that promote local participation in economic activities
  • careful assessment of local contexts is critical, clear principles for engagement at the local level are required
  • clarity is needed about the costs and benefits of the business transaction from the start.
To recipient governments:
  • increase attention to agricultural productivity. There needs to be an assessment of how gains are achieved and how benefits are shared
  • structure land contracts so as to maximise the investment’s contribution to sustainable development
  • present clear information on procedures to investors
  • provide legal support to people affected by investment projectsto help them get a better deal from incoming investment
To international development agencies:
  • engage with investor and recipient governments, private sector and civil society to ensure that land deals maximise the investment’s contribution to sustainable development
  • help address the lack of clear and easily accessible information on land acquisitions and agricultural investments
  • provide expert advice, capacity building and other support for governments, private sector and civil society, with regards to the negotiation of contracts.
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