Investments in agricultural land may be essential for achieving food security and promoting economic growth, but what are the potential costs and benefits for local landholders and the environment?

Investing in land, and in activities requiring land, occurs around the world. As a broad category, “land and investments” encompasses a wide range of scenarios: investments may be small or large in terms of the amount of money invested and scale of the land acquired. Investments may be undertaken for activities ranging from agriculture or forestry to infrastructure, extractive projects, renewable energy, or even tourism; and may involve a variety of actors, such as local smallholders, national governments, local investors, or foreign corporations, among others.

Given the breadth of what falls within investment in land and land-related activities, the concept of land investments is not inherently controversial. For example, the most significant source of agricultural investments tied to land in low- and middle-income countries comes from farmers themselves—not only by land investments, such as acquiring new land, but also by investments in agriculture, including in crops, improvements to the land they already hold, and new equipment or structures to make their land and activities more productive [1]. Such investments are indisputably important.  Yet the types, forms, and scale of investment deemed appropriate remain highly polarizing in many contexts, especially with respect to agricultural activities and land investments more generally. Large- and medium-scale land investments that require a transfer in rights to use land raise particularly difficult concerns, given their potential to negatively affect existing land users and local communities—leading in some cases to charges of “land grabbing.”

Strong land governance systems and secure land tenure (i.e. the certainty that landholders’ rights to the land will be recognized, protected, and enforceable if challenged by others) can support land users’ sustainable investments in land and agriculture, as well as their ability to make decisions regarding whether to retain or transfer their land rights in the context of incoming investors who seek to use their land. Weak or conflicting land governance systems and insecure tenure, on the other hand, may lead to less sustainable land use, or may create a greater likelihood that legitimate land rights are violated as other land investors move in. While various guidelines and principles explicitly address responsible investment in land and in agriculture, there are still challenges associated with ensuring that land investments respect land rights and human rights, are sensitive to gender and environmentally sustainable, and result in expected benefits rather than conflict. Governments and investors may find that such issues are even more difficult when they constitute “legacy issues” that must be addressed after investments have occurred or operations have been ongoing [2]. And although transparency around large land-based investments is slowly increasing, information regarding such investments often remains inaccessible to those affected and the general public, limiting understanding of their implications and impeding accountability.

 

Selected indicators

Share (%) of Agricultural Value added with respect to the Total Value Added produced in a given country in a given year.

Measurement unit: 
Percentage

Total spending for agricultural reserch measured measured as a share of the value added from agriculture, forestry and fishing activities

Measurement unit: 
Percentage

Employees are people who work for a public or private employer and receive remuneration in wages, salary, commission, tips, piece rates, or pay in kind.

Measurement unit: 
Percentage

Free negotiations between right holders and investors measured on a scale from A - which stands for good practices - to D - reflecting weak practices.

Measurement unit: 
Index (A; D)

Key information on land concessions is public measured on a scale from A - which stands for good practices - to D - reflecting weak practices.

Measurement unit: 
Index (A; D)

Rule of law captures perceptions of the extent to which agents have confidence in and abide by the rules of society, and in particular the quality of contract enforcement, property rights, the poli

Measurement unit: 
Index (-2.5; 2.5)

This indicator measures total natural resources rents as a share of the gross domestic product (GDP) of a given country.

Measurement unit: 
% of GDP

This indicator asks whether national laws provides alternative approaches to the fair market value approach in cases where land markets are weak or non-existent.

Measurement unit: 
Index (A; C)

The world at a glance

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Total Area (ha) calculated as the sum of all deals, in a gven country over the period 2000-2015.

Measurement unit: 
Ha

Ranking

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Investments selected openly on economic, socio-cultural and environmental basis measured on a scale from A - which stands for good practices - to D - reflecting weak practices.

Measurement unit: 
Index (A; D)

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