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Call for New Approach on Land Grab

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LONDON – The time is ripe for a new approach to the large-scale land deals that ultimately connect millions of consumers and savers in rich nations with millions of poor rural farmers in Africa, says a new book by one of the world’s leading experts in such deals.
Zed Books in the United Kingdom will launch “The Great African Land Grab?” by Dr Lorenzo Cotula, a senior researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development, on 15 July in London.
The book shows how governments, investors, civil society organisations and farmers can act to ensure that investment in agriculture responds to the aspirations of poor communities, whilst providing returns on investments.
“The growing body of evidence shows that the majority of large-scale land deals have had net negative impacts on local populations,” says Cotula. “They have rendered people landless without compensations, have broken links between land and livelihoods, culture and social identity, and, in some cases, have sparked conflict.”
It doesn’t need to be this way. When properly structured, investments can create new opportunities for local producers – for example, where a company invests in a processing plant and sources from local farmers.
“Small-scale farmers remain the main source of investment in African agriculture, and it is through promoting investment in these farmers, not in their land, that African governments are most likely to increase food security,” says Cotula.
But historical legacies, powerful forces in markets and policy, and biased legal frameworks make local landholders vulnerable to dispossession.
“The law offers strong protection to investors who acquire land, but the rights of people affected by the deals are weak under national and international law,” says Cotula. “When competing claims come into contest, more vulnerable groups get squeezed out. The people the deals affect have little or no say, and gain few benefits.”
But, Cotula also warns that the debate on “land grabbing” has become polarised, and that this does not help efforts to find practical ways forward. Strong views in favour of either large or small-scale agriculture ignore the evidence that demands a more fine-grained analysis of each model, and of the many models that involve collaboration between small and large-scale operators.
Cotula outlines what governments, investors, international agencies and civil society could do to promote more inclusive models of investment. He says that without the necessary changes to policy, law, transparency and power relations, a better deal for Africa from incoming investment will remain elusive.
“Decisions taken now will have impacts for decades to come,” says Cotula. “The time has come for placing people at the centre of investment processes.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lorenzo Cotula is a senior researcher and team leader at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), where he works on land and on natural resource investment in lower-income countries. Lorenzo undertakes research, capacity building, policy advocacy and advisory work at field, national and international levels. Before joining IIED in 2002, he worked on assignments with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and with two Italian NGOs. Lorenzo holds a law degree from the University ‘La Sapienza’ of Rome, an MSc in development studies from the London School of Economics, a PhD in law from the University of Edinburgh, and a Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business from the University of Cambridge.

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