What (r)evolutions do we need? The Land Matrix at the LANDac International Conference


Author: Christoph Kubitza

The 2022 LANDac International Conference took place under the theme “Governing land for the future. What (r)evolutions do we need?” from 29 June to 1 July. As always, the event was hosted in the small city of Utrecht, the Netherlands, bringing together both researchers and practitioners. This year, the Land Matrix Initiative (LMI) hosted a session, entitled “Taking stock of the global land rush – Evolutions, impacts and perspectives for responsible investment”, which consisted of four inputs forming two thematic blocks. The first block, led by Ward Anseeuw and Christoph Kubitza from the LMI, documented the sobering effects of large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) on economic and environmental outcomes in the Global South based on the initiative’s third Analytical Report. It also examined how far the aspirational global frameworks that were seen in the last decade have improved the outcomes of LSLAs based on a recent VGGT assessment. The conclusions of both presentations pointed to some progress made in terms of land policy frameworks, but limited change in practice.

Following the review of the current state of LSLAs, the second block focused on alternative or complementary development and investment models in response to the challenges facing global agriculture. First up, José Pablo Prado Córdova from the Universidad de San Carlos in Guatemala presented – on agroecological approaches, highlighting how local organisations already often implement agro-ecological approaches that work beyond the rationales of global supply chains. They hence stand in stark contrast to the intensive agriculture of LSLAs that adversely affect social cohesion and have no ecological viability in the long run, he argued. However, to scale up these usually very localised approaches, increased awareness, engaged scholarship, long-term commitment, and science-based advocacy is needed. The second presentation by Cole Frates of the Renewable Resources Group (RRG) focused on sustainable investment funds and their scope to alter the impacts on the ground. He emphasised that there is a general willingness to upscale sustainable investments to improve livelihoods of farmers and labourers integrated in global agricultural supply chains. To this end, one of the key components of such investments could be to decrease the role of intermediate firms, traders, or processors that often form local monopolies and potentially exploit the dependency of farmers and agricultural labourers in the Global South. While the general intention of such investments was applauded by the audience, the focus on global markets received criticisms as, for example, the integration into local and regional markets could prevent the reproduction of old dependencies between the Global South and high-income countries.

Overall, coming back to the conference theme “What (r)evolutions do we need?”, the first block of the sessions suggested very much business as usual for LSLAs, with only a limited evolution of the sector towards more sustainable practices – but more needs to be done to speed up the implementation of global frameworks and national legislation on the ground. While the second block proposed more revolutionary approaches to improve the sustainability of global agriculture, since the scope of these approaches is so localised, the empirical effects of potential upscaling remain a black box which is certainly an issue for further research.

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