Large-scale foreign land acquisitions could harm local people, says UN-backed report

26 May 2009

A United Nations-commissioned study shows that land acquisitions are on the increase in Africa, Latin America, Central Asia and Southeast Asia, raising the risk that poor people will lose access to land, water, and other resources.

The study, carried out at the request of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said that large-scale acquisitions, often by investor countries interested in food security, can bring many opportunities, including guaranteed outlets, employment, investment in infrastructures and increases in agricultural productivity.

However, the study found, that they “can also cause great harm if local people are excluded from decisions about allocating land and if their land rights are not protected,” FAO said in a news release.

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), which conducted the study, found acquisitions of almost 2.5 million hectares of land since 2004, and said the trend may be on the rise.

Many countries do not have sufficient mechanisms to protect local rights and take account of local interests, livelihoods and welfare.

“A lack of transparency and of checks and balances in contract negotiations can promote deals that do not maximise the public interest. Insecure local land rights, inaccessible registration procedures, vaguely defined productive use requirements, legislative gaps and other factors too often undermine the position of local people,” FAO said.

The report called for, among other steps, securing land rights for rural communities, involving local people in negotiations, and proceeding with land acquisition only after their free, prior and informed consent.

 

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