UN expert puts forward measures to regulate ‘land grabbing’

11 June 2009

An independent United Nations human rights expert proposed a set of measures today to guide large-scale international land purchases, known as “land grabbing,” ahead of upcoming negotiations by the “Group of Eight” (G8) industrialized nations on responsible investment in agriculture.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, identified the practice of international investors buying or leasing large amounts of farmland in developing countries as one of the new trends to emerge out of last year’s global food crisis which needs to be addressed.

Although transactions can be opportunities for development, with the potential for creating infrastructure and employment, increasing public revenues and improving farmers’ access to technologies and credit, they also have negative effects on the right to food as well as other human rights, noted Mr. De Schutter.

The eviction of people who have informally cultivated the land for decades, the loss of access to land for indigenous peoples and pastoral populations, and increased competition for water resources are some of the potential detrimental impacts.

“These principles and measures are intended to assist both investors and host governments in the negotiation and implementation of large-scale land leases and acquisitions,” Mr. De Schutter told reporters in Brussels, Belgium.

He said that the proposed measures are meant to ensure that such investments work for the benefit of the population including the most vulnerable groups in the host country, with obtaining the right to food as the ultimate goal.

“From a human rights perspective, the negotiations leading to investment agreements should be conducted in full transparency and with the participation of the local communities whose access to land and other productive resources may be affected as a result of the arrival of an investor,” stressed the Special Rapporteur.

“Any shifts in land use should in principle be made with the free, prior and informed consent of the local communities concerned.”

Other measures included arrangements in investment contracts that obliged foreign investors to provide farmers with access to credit and improved technologies, and the establishment and promotion of farming systems that are labour intensive.

“A multilateral approach could avoid beggar-thy-neighbour policies, with countries competing against each other for the arrival of foreign direct investment and thus lowering the requirements imposed on foreign investors,” he argued.

Mr. De Schutter – who reports to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council in an independent, unpaid capacity – stressed that land not only represents the main means to access and procure food for millions, it is also critical to the identity of certain peoples and communities.


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