Emerging Voices features contributions from scholars and practitioners highlighting new research, thinking, and approaches to development challenges. This article is by Gregory Myers, director of private sector engagement at Cloudburst Group and former division chief for the Land Tenure and Property Rights Division at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Over eight hundred million people in the world do not have enough to eat. In fact, hunger kills more people every year than malaria, AIDS, and tuberculosis combined. But feeding the world’s growing population cannot be achieved through government action and public resources alone. Instead, governments and international organizations should encourage responsible investment in agriculture from a wide range of private sector actors, particularly those with large land-based investments. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, both based in the United States, have already begun reviewing their supply chain processes and are doing more to foster responsible investment. In Europe, Unilever, Nestlé, and Rabobank are also working to address challenges related to “land grabbing.” Yet governments and the private sector need to do more.
Achieving genuine progress on this front will require coordination by a variety of actors. It is encouraging that many groups—NGOs, companies, international donors, and governments—are now focused on this issue. In August, the UN Committee of World Food Security (CFS) negotiated a long sought-after set of global principles to guide responsible investment in agriculture (RAI), mainly for application in emerging economies. Although the ten RAI principles are not without controversy, the document marks an important step toward reducing food insecurity for women, men, and children while promoting sustainable economic growth.
Paired with another set of principles, the Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests, the RAI can facilitate clear, transparent, and predictable rules, laws, and policies that secure property rights and promote investment in ways that both benefit local populations and contribute to global economic growth. Together, these principles could dramatically improve the nature and outcomes of global development efforts by changing both how investment in agriculture in emerging economies takes place and, most importantly, who benefits from these investments. These principles complement other investment guidelines, such as the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Protecting land and resource rights is essential to responsible investment, the fight against hunger, and economic growth. With secure property and resource rights, local people and communities are granted new economic opportunities: they can rent out land to prospective investors or enter into joint ventures with them. In addition, when people believe their land and resource rights are secure, they are more likely to invest in their property, which can increase crop yields and thereby improve household incomes and reduce hunger and food insecurity. Respecting and protecting these rights can also benefit investors by reducing the financial and reputational risks of investing in economies with weak property rights systems.
Implementing these principles and turning good ideas into real change requires more than setting guidelines. Therefore, world leaders, international donor organizations, civil society, and the private sector should create an independent, multi-stakeholder platform to develop practical tools to make the promise of the RAI and the guidelines for responsible governance a reality. An example of such a platform is the Kimberley Process, which prevents trafficking in conflict diamonds.
A multi-stakeholder platform could develop a gold standard industry certification, which would set clear expectations for how investors should conduct business with respect to land in emerging economies. These standards would also empower civil society to monitor investments in a more systematic way and allow consumers to reward companies that behave responsibly and pressure those that do not.
Next, policymakers should experiment with models at the local level to create more profitable investment relationships between commercial and smallholder farms that result in better food security, nutrition, and economic outcomes for all. These could be piloted through country-level, multi-stakeholder partnerships similar to those launched under the Group of Eight (G8) last year.
Finally, this multi-stakeholder platform should improve information sharing and learning by establishing common data standards and procedures that allow information to be compared and shared more easily.
The time is ripe to capitalize on the growing investor interest in agriculture and the movement to develop more responsible investment models, and thus achieve powerful results for local people and communities. Through concentrated efforts, responsible agricultural investments can drive local economic growth and propel millions out of extreme poverty.