Corruption caused by weak governance is leading to unequal land distribution and poor resource management, according to a United Nations report released today, which argues that this lack of transparency is undermining social stability, investment and growth in developing countries.
Weak land governance occurs as a result of low levels of transparency, accountability and the rule of law, the report says, which strains “the rules, processes and institutions that determine which land resources are used, by whom, for how long, and under what conditions.”
The report, jointly produced by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Transparency International, found that in more than 61 countries weak governance has increased the likelihood of corruption in land occupancy and administration, intensifying the impact of pressures on land use, agriculture and food security worldwide.
“The findings of the paper reflect what we have been hearing for years from farmers, herders, investors, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in many developing countries – that where land governance is deficient, a high risk of corruption exists,” said FAO Assistant Director-General for Natural Resources Alexander Mueller.
“Secure access to land and protection of natural resources from unbridled use is one of the keys to ensuring food security, social stability, investment, broad-based economic growth and sustainable development,” Mr. Mueller added.
The report found that corruption in the land sector varied from small-scale bribes and fraud to high-level abuses of government power and political positions.
“When transparency and accountability are absent, the risk of corruption rises and threatens to turn land into a tool of alienation of ordinary people. As a result of corruption, people lose the cultural and economic benefits of their own land resources,” said Rueben Lifuka, President of Transparency International Zambia.
The report also notes corruption is increasing in the biofuel industry, as many countries with weak governance are considered attractive destinations for this type of investment. In Colombia, for example, the rapid expansion of oil palm cultivation has been linked to reports of paramilitaries, hired by private interests, allegedly pushing poor communities off their land to increase the available area for planting, and a State investigation found that at least 25,000 hectares suitable to plant oil palms had been illegitimately acquired by private interests.
The report underscores the importance of strengthening governance to ensure land benefits can be enjoyed by all citizens. FAO is currently working with its partners to improve land governance through proposed guidelines by the international community.