World Bank Report Highlights Concerns, Potential Benefits Of Large-Scale Farm Deals In Developing Countries

Foreign purchases of agricultural land in developing countries “pose ‘significant risks’ to the livelihoods of farmers in countries with ‘weak land governance,’ the World Bank said in a report” (.pdf) on Tuesday, which also noted the potential benefits of these investments, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.

“Rising prices of rice, corn and palm oil in 2008 triggered deadly unrest in some parts of the developing world. The report, Rising Global Interest in Farmland, said that over the next year farmland investment spiraled, with 10 times more property bought in developing countries by nations seeking food security,” the news service writes (Rastello, 9/7).

The report includes “firsthand data from 14 countries,” according to a World Bank press release (9/7). “In many of the land deals reviewed by the bank, there was often little – if any – compensation for the loss of land rights, and a limited capacity to enforce environmental or social safeguards,” Dow Jones Newswires reports.

“These large land acquisitions can come at a high cost,” said World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. “The veil of secrecy that often surrounds these land deals must be lifted so poor people don’t ultimately pay the heavy price of losing their land,” he said (Talley, 9/7).

“The report reveals a mixed picture on how land deals are handled in Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia. Some countries have worked with smallholder farmers and use competitive bidding to foster investment deals that benefit local people. This generated significant employment, provided access to markets and technology, and helped to improve social services at the local level,” the press release notes.

But many governments “have been caught unprepared by the increase in demand” for farmlands and have gone on to make “deals with outside investors without first clearly recognizing existing rights.” The report “says in some cases where people’s rights have been ignored there has been conflict over land, undermining investment incentives. Many people have few options for recourse when they are hurt by specific ventures or investors fail to live up to their promises” (9/7).

To address some of the issues outlined in the report, the bank “is proposing a seven-principle code of conduct for investors and host countries, including respecting local land rights, ensuring food security, ensuring transparency and good governance, consultations with those involved, responsible agro-investing, social sustainability and environmental sustainability,” the Financial Times reports (Blas, 9/7). “Bank officials said the organization is working with governments to put its recommended principles into practice,” according to Dow Jones Newswires. “It’s also urging development of an international agreement such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative [EITI] to encourage greater accountability in foreign agriculture investments. Under the EITI, companies and countries provide information on mining and petroleum deals as part of an effort to combat fraud,” the news service explains (9/7).

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