Donor Platform | 1 Sep 2013
First global donor working group on land
Online, 1 Sept 2013. On the margins of the annual World Bank land and poverty conference in April a donor roundtable agreed to establish a first global donor working group on land, which was launched recently. Listen to what the first chair of the group has to say about the members main motivation to form the group, its overall aims — and why it has it taken so long.
Secretariat: Iris, you just recently, and a number of other international donors, launched the Global Donor Working Group on Land. It is the first one comprising donors from all regions of the world and DFID is the first chair of the group. What motivated the members to form this group?
Iris: Watch Donors talked seriously about forming a Global Donor Working Group for the first time at the April Land Conference of the World Bank. Donors had recognized that although in some countries donor coordination groups also on land worked reasonably well, this was by no means the case internationally. We have some good efforts, but globally, outside of external meetings and annual conferences, there is no standing body that helps information exchange and especially coordination. So that was the main impetus to set up this group.
Secretariat: What is your immediate, overall aim with the group?
Iris: Watch Land has risen up on the global agenda extremely fast after the first food price spike in 2007–2008. So for all development donors this is a huge opportunity, but also we see a huge risk if current land investment and future land investments aren’t done well, designed well and done transparently. Then this might undermine poverty reduction and sustainable development, as opposed to what we want to achieve: secure land rights supporting better economic development and poverty reduction. That led us to define four principle objectives: one of them is to improve information exchange, to support lessons learning and avoid what happens very often in the development world where all of us are motivated, we want to find a solution, but we keep reinventing the wheel because we do not do enough lessons learning. We also want to improve donor coordination at the international level and hope that by supporting and improving coordination internationally, we will also help fuel and feed coordination at the regional and national level, and vice versa. And we have agreed to define joint action and policy measures wherever that is suitable.
Secretariat: You mentioned already knowledge exchange and all these things we hear quite often in that whole arena. One thing that comes to my mind: is there any new way that you try to interact in any critical thinking to make that really happen and bring this to fruition?
Iris: Watch We are just in the process of agreeing on our priorities for the work plan for the first year or two. On that agenda we definitely have two main priorities. One of them is to define as much as possible joint positions on the broad 2015 agenda. I think we are all agreed that we think land tenure, security and property rights-related targets would be great in a post-2015 framework. We are also discussing what a global indicator set could be to measure progress in this direction, towards improved land governance. That is certainly one short term priority where better donor coordination can make a significant contribution. The other one — I’m speaking on behalf of the UK — we see the Donor Working Group can help us move forward the new land partnerships that we have agreed at this year’s G8 summit. Those partnerships are with seven initial developing countries who are committed to implementing the Voluntary Guidelines on land tenure. This is an important step and we need all the support we can get. These partnerships have committed to implementing these Voluntary Guidelines on land tenure. In order to learn lessons and also scale up success stories along the way we can use all the support we can get. And the Donor Working Group has agreed to make this one priority of its work plan. We see the Donor Working Group as an important tool to exchange those lessons, showcase those success stories, but also to help communicate with external stakeholders and synergise activities towards this objective.
Secretariat: Can others still join the donor working group?
Iris: Watch Yes, it is open. The Terms of Reference are on the webpage of the Global Donor Platform [see below, for the objectives see especially paragraph 5], which has a subpage for this new working group. It lists the initial founding members, but it also lists conditions of how new members can join. And we are happy to receive any expressions of interest.
Secretariat: You mentioned already the food price hikes in 2007. One question that comes to your mind is: why has it taken so long to form this group? I know there was an EU Working Group on Land and other developments, and if it is so useful, why does it take so long or is it good that it takes longer? Does it need that?
Iris: Watch You know that generally coordination is a challenge, wherever you look, and in the development world that is not an exception. With all kinds of stakeholders, it is a challenge to receive better coordination and that is also the case among donors. Donors have less and less money and need to ensure better value for money for their investments, but they also need to think twice about what they put their staffing capacity in. The smaller the donors are the less opportunity they have to engage in lots of coordination measures. In addition, we should also be frank. Coordination is always a bit like "herding cats" and we are very pleased that we have made such great strides in this case. All donors agree that land is of incredible importance towards boosting sustainable development and we need to get it right and we want more value for money and impact out of the programmes that we are funding. Therefore, coordination is a good step.
Ultimately, why has it taken so long? Well, we are here, so I am pleased we have made this step and that we have also been able to take a leaf out of the book of the functioning EU working group on land, where we felt they have clear advantages, but because it is EU focused, it does not include all the "major hitters" in the land sector. That is why we said to have an additional global working group would probably be good to synergise as much as possible and to increase impact by including as many key stakeholders as possible.
Secretariat: You mentioned already that many donors have to make do with less funds for them to be made available to do their work. This causes some of the bilaterals to have only one person on one portfolio covering a huge inflation of subject matter and a lot of academic thought going into any implementation further down the line. Could you say as a sort of reverse conclusion that land and those land issues and coordination on that is a priority because there is willingness to form this group and also willingness to actually get going in this group?
Iris: Watch It definitely is a priority and it was for many donors and other related players in the past, but I think the window of opportunity has never been as good as now. As you said, the first food price spike has shown us that land is not just a basic resource; it is also a resource that competition is increasing over. This research needs to be put to the best use to support development, to support economic growth and especially to support people's livelihoods. If you look at Africa, for example, 90% of African soil is not under land titles. We can hardly imagine that in the western world. Of course we have a title to the piece of land we own. So if you look at economic interests on Africa this is a very scary situation. I am not saying that immediate titling is the only answer, but something needs to happen to secure land rights for its legitimate owners and users to maximize economic growth and to ultimately support poverty reduction, so donors do not have to fund the same programmes for decades and decades to come. I think land is incredibly important. If we don't get that right, then maybe even the need for humanitarian assistance will increase and that is something none of us want.
Secretariat: I saw some statistics lately that some of the international direct purchases of land in the development world are done not only by the Chinese, as always claimed, but also by individuals from the United States, and therefore actually leading there. Some of our donors as such or the individuals in the donor countries are actually responsible for these large purchases. Do you think there is also a need to maybe do some advocacy within our own countries from the developed, so to speak, side to look into this or is it just a matter of trying to sort things out on the side of the developing countries?
Iris: Watch You mentioned there have been quite a few laudable efforts recently to identify who is buying or leasing, what kind of land and what size of land and where. We still do not have a clear picture and that is one of the reasons that motivated the UK to put land transparency on the agenda under this year's G8. We need to have better information, but we should also not get too bogged down on who is buying what where. We should look at what is happening and what can support poverty reduction, sustainable development – what practices. We should look at those and showcase them.
I think that is a matter that concerns all of us because ultimately we are heading to over 9 billion people in the world in 2050. All of these people want to eat. And in the western world and the emerging powers, we want to eat well. That mans more land that is more energy intensive and arable land is a very limited source. So we have to use it sustainably and we have to make sure it does not increase in inequality and poverty as opposed to reduce it. Ultimately, it is a question for all of us and we have tried to use this year's G8 summit to put a focus on land so we discuss questions like how, for example, German investors, British investors, US investors invest overseas. How they do it - do they do it responsibly, whether it is in agriculture or in other land-based investment? That is another incredibly important subject, but that also should not underestimate the fact that in different countries who invests really, really varies. There are countries where 90% is foreign direct investment. There are countries where almost 100% is national and domestic. So that is why I am saying, it is the type of investment, how it is done - how transparently and how responsibly it is done – is ultimately what counts. I hope that the Donor Working Group can contribute to showcasing success stories and to support international processes like the discussions and negotiations in the CSF on the responsible agriculture investment to showcase what works to make sure that is upscale.
Secretariat: You just mentioned there are a whole lot of concrete ideas, does this also include concrete ideas that you have in mind for your critical next steps for the group to take? Maybe you can reflect a little bit on if you can see a role for the Global Donor Platform in this.
Iris: Watch As I already mentioned, we are in the final steps of agreeing on our work plan for our first year or two. There we identified four priorities: one was to contribute to developing a manageable global indicator framework towards what good land governance means. The ideal on the horizon is that at some point the world will agree on an ISO standard on what good global governance is. This indicator framework would also support an emerging post-2015 framework that ideally would have a target on land – land rights, land tenure security and for property rights. That is another priority for the working group to discuss and form opinions on and influence the negotiations that are going to happen over the next couple of months.
In addition we will also, as I said before, look at how the donor group can support and take forward the new partnerships that were announced under this year’s G8. We hope these will not just remain the seven we announced in June, but that we will have additional partnerships that help to rollout the voluntary guidelines. I mentioned the global Voluntary Guidelines before and they are quite important because they are the first globally negotiated and agreed instrument on what land investment should look like, what land tenure and security should look like, what the underlying processes should be. We hope that by coordinating better and agreeing on maximum financing for the rollout, which may look like different in every country, that the donors of this world can make this a success story which is not just agreeing on a nice set of international soft law, but in making it happen at the grassroots level so that poverty can be reduced in a sustainable fashion.
Secretariat: Thank you very much!
Land group’s ToR
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The interview was conducted by Pascal Corbé of the Platform secretariat.