29 Nov 2012
Grab the land for more food security
Presentation by Christian Häberli at the The Fourth International APEDIA Conference on Sustainable Land Use in Africa held in Hawassa (Ethiopia) on 28-30 November 2012.
A wide – and often wild – debate has started after the massive increase of large-scale agricultural land acquisitions essentially triggered by the food crisis 2007-08 and the ensuing higher prices and higher food insecurity. While geographers, agronomists and economists gradually come to agree on the data, origins and objectives of these investments, analysis remains difficult because implementation information for many such projects is lacking, or disputed. Also, international economic lawyers so far have lamentably failed to contribute to this debate. This paper will argue, first, that such projects can actually increase food security at the national and even at the household levels – even though the production is usually exported as food, feed, fuel or fiber. This matters more than the problem that, on the face of it, these projects are legal. Second, it will show that at the international level a particularly blatant fragmentation between human rights, investment and agricultural law and regulation actually prevents governments and international organisations from coming to grips with “land grab”. Meanwhile the rush for more land continues, threatening the existence of many farmers as long as home and host states, international organisations, lenders, and national and NGO development agencies, stand by without the tools to address the problem. Worse, the inactivity and/or the practice of these actors may be actually increasing the problem. Indeed, in view of this regulatory fragmentation and of the continuing high world market prices for agricultural commodities the productivity gap between a well-managed foreign investment project and the often inefficient land use by small and subsistence farmers in many so-called weak states will continue to play in favour of ever more outside investments. Given the “right to food” obligations of all states as well as of non-state actors, and the likely impact on food security of structural challenges like climate change and demography, a new attempt at international food governance is necessary. The paper will conclude with a series of recommendations focusing on international agricultural investment regulation and policies.