Lifting the veil of secrecy on land deals

As the British Prime Minister hosts a pre-G8 Summit on Saturday, Open for Growth, and G8 leaders meet in Northern Ireland next Monday, they should shine a light on land deals to give people in developing countries more control over their land and protect poor small-scale farmers from land grabs.

In the run up to the events, the UK has recognised that lack of transparency around land deals can both create a barrier to responsible investment, and weaken livelihoods and ignore rights of local communities.

ImageMeanwhile, Tearfund’s local partner in Peru, Paz y Esperanza (Peace and Hope), has been working on issues related to land tenure and use, and their latest research shows why urgent action is needed globally (summary report in Spanish).

Their report shows that environmental damage, social conflicts and loss of food security are security are some of the worrying consequences of the way that land deals or concessions are happening. However, the main concern is that indigenous groups lose control over their land, as they often play no part in negotiations about concessions and have little access to usable information.

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Concentration of land in the hands of large companies is proceeding at a rapid pace, as shown in the full report. For example, in some departments in Peru, mining concessions cover nearly two thirds of the land, as shown in this graph.

This has contributed to a number of worrying impacts in Peru:

  • Reduced food security as land is turned over to agricultural exports. This can be seen in the increasing amount of food being imported into the country, the value of which rose from US$ 510 million in 1991 to US$ 2,429 million in 2008.
  • Social conflicts:  230 social conflicts were reported in Peru as of the end of 2012. Conflicts related to environmental issues, including loss of access to water for small-scale agriculture, as it was diverted to large scale agriculture and mining activities, was a particular issue that accounted for nearly two-thirds (150) of all cases.
  • Environmental damage.  The pressure placed on land, by the extractive industry and large scale agricultural activities, often creates environmental liabilities, as well as effects on the health of the population. The mono-cropping of vast areas of the Amazon for pine nut or sugar cane for biofuel has also led to similar damage.
  • Loss of control over indigenous peoples’ territories.  Despite the existence of many so-called “dialogue” processes that take place between the mining companies and communities, the report shows that these have often ended up being unfair because the indigenous people’s leaders have little or no technical or legal information on which to base their negotiations. Related to this is the lack of official information on the actual amount of land that has been granted in concessions.

One case that illustrates this is of a Korean company ECOAMERICA, which was sold 72,000 hectares of supposedly uninhabited land for agricultural development for less than 50 pence a hectare.  The communities found out about the deal months later, took legal action and won the first court case, which was then overturned by a higher court. Last year, the Constitutional Court finally ruled in favour of the communities, although they claim that activities are still continuing on their lands.

Tearfund’s partner, Peace and Hope, strongly recommends the following, based on their report:

  1. Consultation – for any process in which communities may be affected by natural resource exploration or development activities, ensuring that the consultations are conducted in good faith and in the language of the population, with legal and technical assistance and true and fair intercultural dialogue.
  2. Indigenous land titles – the state must prioritise the titling of land for native and rural communities. This requires coordinated efforts between the Ministry of Agriculture and the regional governments, and must include contributions from civil society.
  3. Transparency – of commercial transactions affecting indigenous people e.g. the websites of state bodies, such as the ministries, should provide up-to-date information.

Tearfund is part of the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign, which is calling for G8 leaders to establish a global platform called a Land Transparency Initiative, which would help improve land rights in poorer countries and support the UN’s Voluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure. This initiative should also require land investors to share details of both their investments (which can be responsible) and engagement with affected communities. The G8 must also get its own house in order by regulating all G8-based companies investing in land so the details of all deals are shared and affected communities are involved and heard in the negotiations.

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