Pursuing More Responsible Land Investment

Large tracts of land, leased at bargain rates, are among the incentives governments worldwide offer to attract foreign investment. Over the past decade, approximately 203 million hectares of land have been subjected to major land deals. While Africa appears to be the main target of the land rush, other focal areas are Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. Aidenvironment is involved in several projects to ensure responsible investment in land. Our clients include companies from the agricultural sector, NL Agency (Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation), Institute for Human Rights and Business, and NIZA.


Foreign land investment is a potential source of benefit for less developed countries. They could improve the local infrastructure and economy, stimulate productive and sustainable land management, ensure the transfer of technology, and provide long-term employment. While improvement of social conditions and poverty reduction could be long-term benefits, these do not accrue of their own accord and are highly dependent on the country’s enabling legal, political, social and environmental situation.


Host governments play a key role in land acquisition and the resettlement of the people living on and using the land. Government agencies are often responsible for planning and implementing land acquisition and resettlement in preparation for public or private sector projects. Very often, however, legal and administrative frameworks and processes fail to meet international standards, such as the IFC Performance Standards and the draft Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. Inferior land surveys and environmental social impact assessments are all too common, as is inadequate engagement of the people and local communities affected.


Even where the host government is responsible for land acquisition and resettlement, public and private investors still have a responsibility to respect the land rights of the affected people. This demands an active approach on the part of the investor, and requires them to assess and manage the actual and potential impacts on people and the environment, honor local legal and social structures, and ensure meaningful engagement. This is especially true of countries with parallel national and customary legal systems. In such countries land registration tends to lag behind and few people have land titles and are reliant on customary land use practices. What is more, traditional structures, led by chiefs and headmen, are not always participatory and (gender-) inclusive.


Aidenvironment supports public and private investors by conducting due diligence assessments of investment projects. In these not only do we focus on preventing and managing harm, we strive to create impacts that benefit the affected persons and communities, for instance, through the early establishment of structures that permit community participation, fair and shared benefits, and job opportunities. In addition, Aidenvironment contributes to the corporate consultation of the draftGuidelines on Business, Land Acquisition, and Land Use: a Human Rights Approach, developed by the Institute for Human Rights and Business.


For more information contact Marina d’Engelbronner-Kolff.