Since the 1990s, a new wave of large-scale land acquisitions for agricultural investments has emerged world-wide and in the Mekong region, in particular. Land grants for agro-industrial concessions are not new and can be traced back to the colonial era. However, the convergence of the food, financial and energy crises in the mid-2000s has intensified interest in large-scale forms of agriculture to unprecedented levels. In the Mekong region, significant areas of land have been granted to companies for agro-industrial investments, i.e. in Cambodia (2.1 M ha), Myanmar (2 M ha), Laos (0.4 M ha) and Vietnam (0.25 M ha). This has been expected to generate Foreign Direct Investment in the agricultural sector, boost productivity and spur modernisation, and increase government revenues in countries that were thought to be “land-abundant.”
In reality, the trend proved problematic, principally due to impacts on smallholder farming systems, limited return to local economies, and overlaps of land claims leading to conflicts and evictions. Government, investors and international and national organizations have been increasingly involved in designing and implementing mechanisms to limit large scale land acquisitions and better regulate agro-industrial investments. In the case of Cambodia and Lao PDR, governments established moratoria on large concessions.
More than two decades down the road, it is critical to learn from these developments, especially given that national governments have become increasingly aware of the limitations of the agro-industrial model and the problems associated with its implementation. It is timely to:
- review the positive and negative impacts on rural smallholder farmers, as well as the concessionaires,
- examine the effectiveness of regulatory frameworks put in place by governments,
- learn from the experiences of engagement between the private sector and rural communities, and
- explore alternative forms of agricultural development that are likely to be more inclusive of smallholder farmers.
A regional workshop on the theme ‘Responsible Large Scale Agricultural Investment in the Mekong’ will be held on 15-17 November 2017 to examine these questions with a diversity of stakeholders from government representatives, protagonists of the private sector, research institutes and civil society groups.
In the lead up to the regional workshop, this online dialogue offers a space for policy makers, development partners, private sector representatives, researchers, civil society workers and community advocates to exchange ideas and experiences on these issues.
Through this dialogue we aim to collaboratively explore challenges and opportunities related to the responsible large scale agricultural investments in the Mekong region in order to identify issues of common interest, contrast country and regional contexts and strategies, and generate a regional-level synthesis of key challenges and opportunities to contribute to solutions.
We invite participation from local, national, regional and global levels to widen our learning.
The online dialogue will be documented in a summary report, synthesising key discussion points, supported with a recap of participant contributions.
Lessons from the online-dialogue will be brought into and further discussed during the regional workshop, where policy recommendations will be formulated.
Large-scale land acquisitions: impacts and results
1. What are the most important trends in policy and practices around agro-industrial concessions and related land use in the region in the recent years? What were the expectations of the investors and governments promoting these forms of agricultural development? Have these expectations been reached?
2. What have been the impacts of the policies granting large scale land concessions, both positive and negative? Various initiatives were developed to evaluate these impacts and the performance of the investments, by government themselves or by research institutes. What are these and what have we learned from them?
Improving regulation of large-scale land acquisitions
3. The granting of large scale land concessions has been based on the premise that in the Mekong Region, there are still vast areas of fertile land “empty” and available for investments. However, most research cases point to the fact that most of the land allocated for agro-industrial concessions was already used by local communities. Because of fundamental issues that emerged during the land identification and allocation stage (lack of transparent communication, lack of consultation with local communities, etc.), this has often led to disputes over land access and to environmental and social impacts that have affected communities and also jeopardized investments. With this in mind, is it worth pursuing large scale agricultural concession models? Where and under what conditions?
4.What could be done to more effectively engage the private sector toward more responsible agricultural large-scale investments?
- From a private sector perspective, what are the advantages of developing Responsible Agricultural Investment and other corporate social responsibility practices and guidelines?
- From a civil society perspective, how could rural communities be better equipped to negotiate with investors and government prior to and after the signing of a large-scale agricultural investment contract? What are the challenges with implementing Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)?
Alternatives to large-scale agricultural investments
5. The multi-faceted problems resulting from large scale agricultural investments have led to policy reviews and/or the establishment of moratoria on certain kinds of large-scale land acquisitions, with new forms of investment being incentivized, e.g. land lease, contract farming etc. Are these new forms more viable alternatives for ensuring inclusive sustainable development? What lessons from previous experiences should be applied to these new forms of investment, especially to protect small-holders? What implications might this have for future?
6.What venues/platform are most appropriate to discuss the regulatory environment with governments and private sector and why are they effective? What are their limitations? What other opportunities are there to promote this conversation further?
How to join the dialogue
The dialogue is open to anyone with an interest in land issues. To make a contribution to the discussion, first register here.
Please feel free to answer as many questions as you like and then upload your contributions to the dialogue. You are welcome to make more than one contribution. Your contributions should be brief –not more than 500 words, and may be shorter. You may also query other participants and comment on their contributions.
If you have any questions on content or if you want to discuss your contribution before the dialogue start, please feel free to contact the dialogue moderator Jean-Christophe Diepart, Mekong Region Land Governance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have question technical question on user interface etc. please contact Terry Parnell, MLIKE coordinator at email@example.com or Neil Sorensen, Land Portal, at firstname.lastname@example.org