International Land Deals for Agriculture:
Fresh insights from the Land Matrix
Kerstin Nolte, Wytske Chamberlain, Markus Giger, Land Matrix
En 2012, cinq organisations internationales, dont le Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement (Cirad) et le German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA), lançait le projet Land Matrix qui recense périodiquement les transactions foncières au niveau mondial1. Projet particulièrement novateur, il permet de rendre compte d’un phénomène qui s’amplifie depuis la crise alimentaire de 2008 : l’ « accaparement » des terres agricoles, encore appelé Land Grabbing en anglais.
Dernièrement, Land Matrix a publié un nouveau rapport riche d’enseignements et de données collectées au fil des années. Dans les extraits du rapport que nous reproduisons ci-après2 il apparaît que depuis 2000, 1 004 achats de terres à grande échelle à des fins agricoles par des investisseurs étrangers ont été effectués dans le monde, couvrant 26,7 millions d’hectares (soit la moitié de la surface française). En 2016, seulement 6,4 millions d’hectares seraient en production contre 1,7 million en 2012. Le phénomène est particulièrement observé en Afrique et en Asie du Sud mais concerne également l’est de l’Europe où pas moins de 96 accords ont été conclus depuis 2000, représentant 5,1 millions d’hectares.
L’origine des investisseurs est également renseignée. Il s’agit davantage d’entreprises, cotées ou non, que d’Etats ou d’entreprises publiques qui ne comptent que pour 15% des accords. Les nationalités impliquées sont, dans l’ordre, la Malaisie, les États-Unis, le Royaume-Uni, Singapour ou encore l’Arabie Saoudite. La Chine, contrairement aux idées reçues, ne figure pas parmi les principaux acquéreurs.
Autre enseignement intéressant : la nature de la transaction. Il s’agit en effet pour l’essentiel de contrat de location, le plus souvent de plus de 20 ans, et non de ventes. L’Amérique du sud et en particulier le Brésil sont cependant davantage concernés par des transferts de propriété. Il est en effet à la fois moins engageant pour les pays hôtes et surtout moins couteux pour les investisseurs de contrôler le foncier par des locations de longue durée plutôt que par l’achat.
Enfin, Land Matrix enregistre également des informations liées aux projets en termes de nouvelles infrastructures (routes, écoles, etc.) et cherchent à quantifier l’activité créée localement, directement ou indirectement via les contrats qui peuvent liés les investisseurs et les agricultures locales.
Rassembler le maximum d’informations sur les « accaparements » fonciers parait d’autant plus important que ce phénomène recouvre des réalités très diverses. D’une part, considérant que la terre n’est pas une marchandise comme les autres, et qu’elle est le support physique et la ressource principale de communautés dont on ne saurait nier les droits et la souveraineté, les exemples de prise de contrôle des terres sans concertation ni dédommagement ne sont pas acceptables. De l’autre, la mobilisation de capitaux extérieurs pour permettre le développement de zones pauvres en infrastructures doit aussi être vue comme une stratégie de développement positive.
Ainsi comme souvent, il convient de séparer le bon grain de l’ivraie et d’éviter les généralisations hâtives car de nombreuses régions souffrent d’un manque d’investissements responsables. Etablir cette distinction est l’ambition de Directives Volontaires sur le foncier établies par la FAO en 20123 dont le Comité Technique « foncier et développement » vient de discuter de l’application dans un récent rapport4.
La rédaction de momagri
Land acquisitions continue to be an important trend
Large-scale land acquisitions continue to be an important issue for governments, development organisations, NGOs and farmers’ organisations all over the world; this remains the case even in times of global economic slowdown, recession and crisis. The scale of this trend and its significant impacts on rural transformation and livelihoods make it necessary to further monitor, observe and positively influence such deals wherever possible.
The Land Matrix Initiative (LMI) is a global partnership which aims to improve transparency around large-scale land acquisitions. It collects and provides data and information through a network of global and regional partners. In April 2012 it published its first Analytical Report (Anseeuw et al., 2012), which provided a comprehensive overview of the phenomenon, which at that time was newly emerging.
A new and updated report is needed
Since the 2012 report, large-scale land acquisitions have continued to take place and further insight has been obtained.
Over this period the LMI has undergone a number of changes: it has incorporated regional partners in the global South; the database and platform have undergone major developments which enable it to present continuously updated information, with individual deals being tracked over time; and data gathering has been improved, drawing on multiple source types for each deal. While our understanding of large-scale land acquisitions is increasing, levels of transparency remain low. Hence the motivation of the LMI to support informed, equitable decision-making remains relevant.
Agricultural land acquisitions are increasingly becoming operational
Overall, the Land Matrix has captured 1,204 concluded deals (for all intentions), which cover over 42.2 million hectares of land. Intended deals target 20 million hectares and failed deals 7.2 million hectares. Overall, concluded deals are smaller in size than their original intention and the average size is smaller than intended and failed projects. The large majority of deals are for farming purposes: there are 1,004 concluded large-scale agricultural land acquisitions covering 26.7 million hectares under contract.
For about 70% of these agricultural land acquisitions activities have started, and most of these are in operation. In the 2012 Analytical Report only 323 deals had seen operations begin, but this number has nearly doubled to 604 and the area under production has increased from 1.7 million hectares to 6.4 million hectares. Implementation is typically quite fast: most deals enter the production phase in less than three years.
Food crops dominate
Food crops continue to play the major role, both in terms of number of deals (553) and area (9.2 million hectares), followed by unspecified agricultural intentions – mostly involving oil palm (263 deals on 5.6 million hectares) and agrofuels (221 deals on 5.1 million hectares). The crops planted most often are oil seeds, including oil palm and jatropha, cereals such as corn and wheat, and sugar crops. Most of these crops can also be used for fuel or renewable energy, and this is captured in the database where applicable.
Africa is the most targeted continent, but the main target countries are elsewhere
Africa remains the most significant target area, with deals concluded in many countries across the continent. It accounts for 422 concluded agricultural deals (42% of all deals) and 10 million hectares (37%). It also has the highest number of intended deals (147 deals; 13.2 million hectares). Land acquisitions are concentrated along major rivers and in East Africa. The second most important region is Eastern Europe, which accounts for 96 deals and 5.1 million hectares of concluded deals.
The top five individual target countries (Indonesia, Ukraine, Russia, Papua New Guinea and Brazil) account for 46% of the total area of all concluded agricultural deals and 25% in terms of the number of deals.
Large diversity in origin of investors
The top five investor countries are Malaysia, the USA, the UK, Singapore and Saudi Arabia. Together these account for 45% of the land under contract and 37% of all deals. Western European investors (the top five being the UK, the Netherlands, France, Jersey and Cyprus) are involved in 315 concluded deals, covering nearly 7.3 million hectares, which makes this the biggest investor region, followed by South-East Asia. Recently, the pace of investments from the USA has slowed, while investments from tax haven countries such as Cyprus and the British Virgin Island have increased by comparison.
Strong regional trends
Investors from the global South show a preference for investing in their own regions – most significantly, Malaysian investors targeting Indonesia and Argentinian investors acquiring land in Brazil. Similarly, investors from high-income countries tend to target land on the same continent, such as North American investors active in South America and East Asian investors acquiring land in other Asian countries. European and Middle Eastern investors are mostly active in Africa.
The private sector dominates
Private (non-listed) companies drive most of the deals: over 40% of all concluded deals, covering more than 45% of the land under contract. This type of investor mainly targets land in Africa and Central and South America. Stock exchange-listed firms account for a further 30% of deals (32% of area); these deals are concentrated more in Asia and Eastern Europe. While many private companies are involved in a small number of deals, stock exchange-listed companies often engage in multiple land deals focusing on a single geographic region.
Indirect drive by investment funds and State-owned entities
Investment funds and state-owned entities together account for around 15% of large-scale land acquisitions and as such are not major drivers. However, their involvement reaches further through indirect engagement, as they are often part of highly complex investor chains. Both investor types are shareholders in stock exchange-listed companies, and thus provide financing to these investors. Furthermore, government policies can stimulate private capital to invest in foreign land acquisition.
Food is the main purpose, but some investors focus on other intentions
Most investors from the top 10 investor countries are involved in food crop production. Exceptions are the dominance of oil palm and rubber in Asian investments and the relative dominance of fuel crops in the case of UK and Indian investors. In particular investment funds, and to a lesser extent state-owned entities, appear to acquire land for food crops, according to Land Matrix data. This underlines the drive by governments to ensure food security for their own populations.
Local communities are often bypassed in negotiations
The exclusion of local communities during the negotiation phase means that they frequently oppose foreign investors (in 60% of the 180 deals where information is available). In about 14% of cases, a process of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) has been conducted, while in 43% of cases some limited form of consultation has taken place. It is important to note that simply knowing that some form of consultation has taken place is not sufficient in itself to judge the quality of the consultation process, which can be selective and which can bypass important groups affected by a land deal.
Limited information on displacement and Compensation Almost half of the area targeted was formerly owned by communities, and this is therefore likely to lead to voluntary or forced displacements of local populations. Deals where displacement occurs generally involve a large number of people. Compensation is paid to people or communities who lose access to land in one-third of cases.
Projects in operation have significant socio-economic and ecological impacts
Typically during the start-up phase, when farms are being established, there is high labour demand for construction work and infrastructure development, but for a short period of time only. However, the implications of mature operational projects have yet to be researched in detail. Many projects have not yet reached maturity and at this stage the Land Matrix data can provide only limited evidence on their impacts. Many projects promise improved social infrastructure, and Land Matrix data suggests that education and health facilities are frequently established. A particularly interesting aspect is the potential creation of employment through land acquisitions. We find very low intensities of labour, suggesting the prevalence of capital-intensive production methods and therefore limited capacity to create rural employment. Large-scale farms are often located in proximity to smallholder farms and hence it is likely that spillovers to smallholder farmers will materialise. Contract farming models are one option to include local smallholders, and Land Matrix data shows that a substantial proportion of deals use such models. However, these schemes are not automatically beneficial to participants (or to non-participants), and a high degree of involvement by investors is necessary to make contract farming work. The environmental effects of operational farms depend largely on the mode of production and the mitigation measures taken. One key concern is an increase in water scarcity.
Further need for monitoring
As operational activities increase, the long-term effects on communities will become clearer. It remains important to gain a better understanding of the overall benefits and costs of large-scale land acquisitions for local communities, rural development and the achievement of national development goals (if any). The trade-offs between socio-economic and environmental aims need to be further monitored, and the impact of large-scale land acquisitions needs to be assessed in the context of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the international community.
In the years to come the Land Matrix Initiative will continue to collect data on land acquisitions, and will aim to forge even closer connections with its regional partners and networks. We also plan to develop a number of national land observatories and to work more closely with existing multi-stakeholder platforms of various types, helping them to further investigate the scale and impact of land acquisitions and to contribute to policy, development, research and advocacy activities. Eventually, we aim to use this information to contribute to more equitable decision-making, by supporting stakeholders with a weaker voice in negotiating and decision-making on land acquisitions.
Choice of contracts shows a clear regional pattern
It can be seen that deals in Africa, Asia and Oceania almost exclusively use leases or concessions, while deals in the Americas focus on outright purchases. For deals in Eastern Europe, both options seem to be used frequently. Note that a concession implies user rights (and not a transfer of property rights); this type of contractual agreement is commonly used for forestry and mining projects. These clear regional patterns can be explained by national laws: many countries, particularly in Africa, Asia and Oceania, do not allow the outright purchase of land, and in these cases land is often transacted between the government and an investor.
Other countries, such as Brazil, allow land ownership by foreign companies and persons but impose limitations. In Latin America, land is often transacted between private entities. Lease contracts typically have a long duration. For 327 deals with lease contracts for which information is available, the duration of the lease ranges from three years to 99 years, and 94% of these leases run for at least 20 years. Again, the data shows that national legislation plays a major role in lease contracts: for example, 56 Cambodian deals have duration of 70 years, 31 deals in Papua New Guinea last for 99 years and Zambia only allows leases of 99 years. Investors might also be averse to investing directly in land ownership and may prefer lease.