UN expert wants “land grab” rules to avert backlash

Foreign investors risk a backlash from local populations feeling marginalised by farmland deals that do not take their needs into account, a United Nations independent expert warns.
Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on food security, said G8 leaders should adopt principles to guide large-scale transnational land acquisitions, commonly referred to as “land grabbing”.
Reuters adds the African Union is discussing the possibility of adopting guidelines on the issue and Japan is to propose a set of principles for agricultural investments in developing countries at the July Group of Eight summit in Italy.
De Schutter, who is proposing a set of human rights principles to be taken into account by the G8 leaders, said these principles were necessary to guarantee investments and provide food security.
De Schutter said negotiations with authorities should be transparent and communities whose access to land may be affected should also participate.
“There is the risk that the arrival of foreign investors will lead to evictions; this risk needs to be taken seriously,” De Schutter told Reuters in an interview on Friday.
He added that any shifts in land use should be made with the prior consent of the local communities concerned.
“We face a backlash against investors who will not be able to remain in the country with the trust of the local population and that will make it very difficult for them to benefit from their investment in the long term,” he said.
De Schutter said though some deals so far have taken into account some of these guidelines such as in Senegal, which has chosen not to sell land but to enter into partnerships, others like in the Republic of Congo could threaten food security.
Congolese authorities in April offered South African farmers 10 million hectares of farmland — an area more than twice the size of Switzerland — to grow maize, soya beans as well as poultry and dairy farming. “This means that the local population will benefit very little since little local employment will be created,” De Schutter said of the Congolese deal.
“We must not forget that the land which is often referred to as idle is very useful to local communities. They depend on it for their livelihood even though they may not have land tenure,” he said.
Local people who depend on land risk being further marginalised, he added.
De Schutter said that instead of ceding millions of hectares to foreign investors, by sale or on long-term leases, the possibility of contract farming should be explored.