Empowering Sustainable Investment Through Secure Land Tenure for Small Farmers

 High Level Panel at World Water Week 2012

Stockholm, August 27, 2012

 Address by Dr. Madiodio Niasse, International Land Coalition Director

I appreciate the opportunity to take part in the High Level Panel on The Global Rush for Water and Land which is taking place on August 27th, 2012, at the opening day of the Stockholm World Water Week, which this year focuses on Water and Food Security.

Let me start by saying that the International Land Coalition is against all forms of land grabbing at all levels, from local to international. The ILC denounces large scale land acquisitions that violate human rights in any way,  that are socially and economically unjust, are  environmentally unsustainable or are based upon undemocratic processes that do not allow for benefit sharing.

Our own studies and the many reviews from other organisations converge on the finding that the large scale land acquisitions we are seeing in recent years tend to share the patterns of being secretly negotiated and hastily planned. In the rare cases were actual development of the acquired land has started, they generally have resulted in severe adverse impacts on people and the environment, with often serious threats to water availability in the targeted countries, and even riparian states as most interventions are directed to internationally shared river basins. Therefore, what the evidence is telling us is that the current wave of transnational land deals largely deserves to be referred to as “land grabbing”, and increasingly as “water grabbing”, as we better understand that what is really at stake is water.

That said, I hope we all agree that investment in agriculture is absolutely critical, especially in developing countries. As an African, it is beyond comprehension that agriculture in Africa has barely evolved over the last forty years. I am just returning from a trip to my home country of Senegal, and I was thinking about how farmers are in general using exactly the same methods I remember from my childhood.

The investment needs are huge, but it is unclear where the money will come from. Almost ten years after African Heads of States committed to  allocating at least 10 per cent of  their national budgets to agriculture (commitment known as the Maputo Declaration), only five countries (out of 53) have met the target. There is no indication that domestic investments is taking place apart from purely speculative land acquisitions by urban-based elites.  Agricultural aid to Africa is just a fraction of what it was in the 1970s.

The  equation to be resolved by poor countries is to find viable (or less costly) alternatives to large-scale land deals.  As we seem to have entered a period of chronic deficits in food production and skyrocketing  prices of key staple crops, it is urgent to act. But what exactly can be done? With what resources?

One avenue which has not been sufficiently explored is to better empower the owners and actual users of the land –small farmers of developing countries, and particularly women – to become the prime investors and food producers of the future.  But  creating the conditions that would unleash the investment potential at this level (including through more equitable and secure land and water rights, and provision of basic water infrastructure) can be a long term effort, while in the current context, time is of the essence. Food is rightly perceived as the ultimate security need and one of the major global challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. Wealthy countries and emerging economies are putting substantial efforts in devising appropriate short and long term responses to this challenge. Poor countries should do the same by developing national food security strategies  that help  ensure that their land and water resources are mobilized to primarily serve their own needs.  Lessons should be learned from the many national strategies and action plans that have been prepared in the past – e.g. for fighting desertification, for climate change adaptation, combatting poverty, promoting IWRM, etc. Highly donor-driven, very few of these initiatives achieved their objectives. To succeed the needed national food security strategies have to be nationally owned and driven, which requires government leadership and  the involvement of all stakeholders, not least those who already live off the land and water resources.

Footnote. ILC’s work on large-scale land acquisitions is done as part of a programmed called “Commercial Pressures on Land” (CPL)  initiated in 2007, a premonition of the surge of land acquisitions from 2008. The three components of CPL include: knowledge, dialogue and engagement in policy processes.  In 2009-2011, ILC mobilised its members and partners to carry out a global study on the phenomenon of large scale land deals: more 30 thematic and case studies were completed and synthesised. A web-based tracking of land deals evolved to a Land Matrix partnership that is building what ambitions to be the most comprehensive data base of land deals (See : http://landportal.info/landmatrix). The released portion of the database comprises 1000 land deals totalling more than 50 million hectares.   ILC also supports multi-stakeholder dialogues and the establishment of land deals observatories, mainly in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The Coalition is also engaged in global and regional policy processes aimed at devising appropriate responses to this phenomenon.

About the International Land Coalition

The International Land Coalition is a global alliance of civil society and intergovernmental organisations working together to promote secure and equitable access to and control over land for poor women and men through advocacy, dialogue, knowledge sharing and capacity building. www.landcoalition.org

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