Rethinking Land: ALSF identifies innovative approaches to land investment

24/05/2017
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The attendance of two African ministers, an operations director of the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), and an expert on sustainable investments helped to ensure that the African Legal Support Facility’s (ALSF) high-level roundtable discussion on land investment was as exhaustive and illuminating as possible. Entitled ‘Land Investment Deals in Africa: Negotiating Good Contracts for Sustainable Development,’ the side event was held on 24 May, on the margins of the Bank’s Annual Meetings. The meeting was organized to identify best practices and chart a sustainable route towards stronger, more community-oriented investment contracts in the African region.

Over the past decade, foreign investors have been acquiring long-term rights to own and use large areas of land throughout Africa. However, the full economic potential of such deals are not always realized by African governments, raising concerns about the adequacy of the underpinning contracts and the procedural mechanisms designed to protect domestic interests. “Land investment deals are connected to food security, employment, and infrastructure development. For these reasons, governments have a strong incentive to get these investment contracts right,” explained Kaitlin Cordes, Head of Land and Agriculture at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Development.

The discussants explored traditional best practices associated with land purchase agreements, and evaluated their continued effectiveness in a changing world. “What we kept foremost in mind was ensuring that our citizens retained access to the country’s rich lands,” explained Rivo Rakotovao, the Malagasy Minister for Agriculture. “This is how one can maximize the benefits for the average farmer or sharecropper, and this is indeed the responsibility of the government.”

Pitfalls and challenges were identified during the discussion: “We have to focus on scale. The larger the scale, the more likely the problems,” said Charles Forrest, the Head of Operations in the Office of the General Counsel of IFAD. “The people have to be involved; this is why my organization is focused on small-scale farmers. We believe in small-scale farmers.”

The subject of enhancing the sustainability and broad utility of land investment deals has been studied thoroughly. But in open dialogue with the event’s 60 attendees, the ALSF’s panel was able to strike new ground in agriculture policy, even predicting the advent of new, social-media-based methods of land use. “We’ve got AirBnB for the hotel industry, we have Uber for the taxi industry,  and we’re waiting for a new app to shift our understanding of the agriculture industry,” proposed Amir Shaikh, Chief Legal Counsel of the African Legal Support Facility.