Regulations for Farmland Acquisitions Are Years Away, UN officials say

An indigenous women harvests coffee

An indigenous women harvests coffee. The IFAD’s objectives are to promote equitable access to land by poor people.

A strong set of guidelines for land acquisitions abroad could take years, but is necessary for protecting the interests of small farmers, political leaders said.

The process for establishing international regulations for farmland acquisitions could take up to three years, based on the timetable for similar negotiations, according to Jean-Philippe Audinet, the Acting Director of the Policy Division at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Without detailed consultations amongst all interested parties any framework for negotiations will be futile, Audinet said at a press conference by IFAD and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at the World Summit on Food Security in Rome.

“If the goal is just to write a code of conduct, we can together write something on paper and promote it at the next meeting of the FAO, and so what?  Nothing will come of it.”

International organizations and civil society groups, in response to the surge in land investment abroad over the last few years, are calling for a set of regulations to prevent deals from becoming land grabs. Support for such regulations is widespread, but that is the easy part, according to David Hallam, the FAO’s Deputy Director of the Trade and Market Division.

“Establishing political support for guidelines and outlining the principles is relatively straightforward,” Hallam said at the press conference. “It will be very difficult for anyone to object to the principles: transparency, involvement of stakeholders, sustainability – no one is going to say, ‘No, no, we don’t want that.’ The difficulty comes in the detail. How are we going to implement these things? How are we going to make these things operational? That’s what takes the time.”

The primary objective in reforming the negotiating process should be the empowerment of local people, Audinet said.

“IFAD’s objectives are to promote equitable access to land by poor people and enhance their land tenure security with particular emphasis on women and indigenous people,” Audinet said.

But it is difficult, Hallam said, to develop a strong framework quickly.

“If you look at some of the past attempts to introduce regulatory frameworks of this kind – which have been rushed – everyone agrees and signs up and then they are not implemented. If you don’t get it right, there’s no point in doing it because it simply will not be implemented.”

But a World Bank official, who is helping author the regulations, told Circle of Blue that a set of principles would be published by the end of this year. “We hope these seven principles will be official by December,” said Klaus Deininger, a Land Tenure Adviser in the World Bank’s Agriculture & Rural Development Department.

The second day of the World Summit on Food Security included roundtable discussions on land governance and adaptation to climate change.

Return tomorrow for Circle of Blue’s coverage of the final day of the summit

Listen to statements from summit delegates here.

Read Circle of Blue’s coverage of Day One at the summit.

IFAD’s land tenure security policy paper

FAO’s policy brief on land acquisition abroad

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