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“Land Grab” in Agriculture: Fairer Deals Needed to Ensure Opportunity for Locals

1. Well-defined land ownership

woman farmingResearch shows that when land is legally titled, economic productivity improves. Figuring out who owns the land before acquisitions take place can help ensure the interests of smallholder farmers, promote local economic growth, and support community coordination with international investors. A country’s history and lack of property rights can make land titling complicated. In Ethiopia’s Gambella region, for example, much “unused” agricultural land is traveled by livestock herders, left to fallow, or used for hunting and gathering by indigenous people. These traditional land uses are easily dismissed without property rights.

2. International cooperation and consent

Development experts agree that local residents should provide free, “prior and informed consent” to investors and government officials before land deals occur. But defining this consent and ensuring that deals operate within this rubric can be difficult. In the case of Mozambique, the government declared in 2007 that 30 million hectares of land was open for private investment. Although the government instituted consultations with local residents affected by potential deals, many local participants reported coercion, asymmetric information, and multiple sales of single titles. As a result, the government was forced to halt the deals altogether.

3. Complementing land deals with domestic infrastructure development

Many land deals require additional investment in infrastructure to make the land suitable for efficient agricultural production. When coordinated with local residents, this outside investment can lead to local employment and economic growth. At India’s West Garo Hills Tea Factory, for example, a government agency paid for some processing machinery, a private company offered additional machinery, factory design, and training, and local communities provided land, bricks, and labor. Not only does the partnership provide local jobs, but the processed tea from the factory is divided between the community and a private tea company.

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