Summit urges modernisation, not westernisation, of land sector

World Bank |  Friday, 30 April 2010

Written by Shaughn McArthur

Washington, D.C., 30 April.  How can smallholders in developing countries be strengthened to manage land resources? How can these resources be sustainably cultured to feed 9.1 billion people by 2050, while supplying bio-fuel and carbon markets? Such were the questions rasied by 350 representatives the bilateral and multilateral community, academia and private sector stakeholders at a summit this week.

The World Bank Annual Conference on Land Policy and Administration was held in Washington D.C., 26-27 April 2010.

The conference was structured around three parallel sessions

  • Large Scale Agricultural Investment
  • Land Governance
  • Research and Capacity Building

Key challenges

  • Radical economic, structural and social change may be spawned by growing demand for land in certain countries. This has the potential to alter developing countries as we know them, as proportionally significant amounts of land will be brought into cultivation.
  • Not all countries will be affected in the same way, as countries have different amounts of ‘available’ or ‘surplus’ land.
  • Agricultural investments are likely to have wide-reaching impact, due to multiplier effects and potential linkages with other sectors. These effects carry important opportunities and risks, and are are likely to be complex, forceful and highly significant, depending on the scale of total investment.

A growing ‘love affair’

  • Private sector investors, smallholders and rural communities are growing closer.
  • Companies are exploring new business partnerships and models, including contract farming, outgrower schemes and equity shares.
  • Companies are increasingly aware of their corporate responsibilities.
  • Complementarities between the private sector and smallholders present opportunities for win-win outcomes, in which companies contribute capital, technology and knowledge of and rural communities their land, local knowledge and labour.

Principles for responsible agro-investment

  • Bad practices, dubbed ‘land grabbing’, do exist. They have been identified and illustrated in a number of case studies.
  • A set of agreed principles of responsible agricultural investment, spelling out the conditions for smallholder-friendly development, should be developed and implemented.
  • Smallholders/rural communities need to be strengthened in their negotiating positions vis-à-vis large scale companies.

In her keynote address, Nobel Laureate Ostrom urged conference participants to avoid panaceas, embrace diversity and complexity, and to recognize that we are dealing with systems within systems, rather than linear, simple logic, especially when we are dealing with communities and institutions. Her insistence on the need to modernise, not westernise existing land tenure institutions, were carried throughout the conference.

The Conference is well documented and the presentations are available online at http://go.worldbank.org/IN4QDO1U10

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