Addis Ababa, 13 November 2014 (ECA) - Continental efforts to adopt land policies that leverage on land as a strategic resource for inclusive and sustainable development took a step forward with the official launch of the African Union Guiding Principles on Large Scale Land Based Investments in Africa (LSLBI).
The launch, which took place during the Inaugural Land Policy Conference in Africa, this Wednesday at the African Union Conference Center in Addis Ababa, kick starts a decade during which African countries are expected to draft policies that recognize the strategic importance of land and encourage its efficient use in Africa’s efforts for structural transformation, industrialization and inclusive development.
“This set of principles will equip African countries and enable them to manage land in a transparent and sustainable manner and to negotiate investments with knowledge of resources available on one land as well as the rights attached to it,” said Joan Kagwanja, Chief of the Land Policy Initiative, housed by the Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa.
Issues around land use and management are becoming important and will increasingly gain prominence as Africa continues to be an attractive destination for foreign – and local - investors. The continual discovery of minerals, and more recently, of oil puts more pressure on governments to negotiate deals that are both economically and socially beneficial to the peoples of Africa and this includes the way land is allocated and the consequences it has on populations living close to mining sites and oil fields.
Moreover, Africa accounts for nearly 60% of the world’s arable land, has a population of just over one billion individuals and records high demographic rates. And with global needs for food security rising, it is not surprising that Africa is seen as the next global ‘food reserve’ and that investors are vying for large portions of land ushering an era of controversial changing of hands of vast swathes of land, in some cases, without compensation to the affected populations.
“When the land grabs took place from 2008, African countries were not ready. Land had not been mapped, owners were unidentified and as a consequence, contracts were not negotiated in a way to make investments sustainable and dwellers ended up losing the most,” says Ms. Kagwanja.
The way forward is articulated in the African Union-led Guiding Principles on Large Scale Land Based Investments aim to facilitate national land policy development and implementation process and to improve the governance of large-scale land based investments. They are articulated as fundamental principles based on human rights of communities, responsible governance of land, social acceptance by affected communities, gender equality and women access to land ownership, cost-benefits study and mutual accountability. They are also aligned to national strategies for sustainable agriculture.
The challenge, following the launch of the LSLBI, is their adoption and operationalization by AU member States. But Ms Kagwanja believes that African countries are ready to take the challenge.
“We have already launched a series of training to build capacity of leaders, parliamentarians, jurists and other practitioners specializing in land issues. We hope that within the next three years at least, we will be able to stop land grabs. And that over the next decade, land management will have seen much needed improvement.”
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