The Guardian (UK/Australia): ‘Developers risk losing billions if they fail to address land conflicts’
Companies who ignore the claims of local communities when buying up land face protests, financial damage and court action
Thursday 19 September 2013
Investors eager to snap up land in developing countries risk losing billions of dollars if they fail to address potential conflicts with local communities, according to research that looks at the extent to which mining, timber and agriculture land deals in Africa, Latin America and Asia encroach on community and indigenous territory.
In a paper published on Thursday by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a US-based non-profit organisation, researchers found at least 30% of land covered by commercial deals in 12 emerging economies overlapped with community forests, indigenous territory and other local land claims.
Ignoring these claims could cost companies billions of dollars in financial damage, from increased operating costs to the abandonment of projects, says the paper. Investors also risk domestic legal challenges, prosecution in international courts for human rights abuses, protests by communities and public outcry, which can harm companies’ ability to do business elsewhere, it says.
Andy White, co-ordinator of the RRI, said conflicts over land deals are not inevitable, but investors need to appreciate that ignoring the interests of local communities is risky business.
“Natural resource developers and their investors face a major challenge. Their profits – along with their ability to meet global demand – can plummet if the situation on the ground becomes unstable,” he said. “Investors need to understand that in this day and age, no land is empty. The people living on the land need to be identified, involved and respected. They are striving for a better life; economic development should not bring them harsher poverty instead.”
The paper, “Global capital, local concessions: A data-driven examination of land tenure risk and emerging market concessions, examined land deals for agriculture, forestry and mining projects in Argentina, Brazil, Cambodia, Cameroon, Chile, Colombia, Liberia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mozambique, Peru and the Philippines.
Researchers mapped and analysed geospatial data on deals covering more than 153m hectares, finding 3,750 cases in where there is significant overlap with local community lands.
In the most extreme case, researchers found that 84% of soybean concessions in Argentina overlapped with land claimed by communities.
In Cameroon, the data suggests that 83% of all commercial timber concessions overlapped with community forests.
Meanwhile, In Chile, Colombia and the Philippines, 30% of the area covered by mining concessions appear to overlap with indigenous territory. In the Philippines, disputes over the Tampakan copper-gold mine have placed $5.9bn-worth of investment at risk in a project that is projected to add 1% to national GDP, the paper says.
The authors note, however, that not all governments have made the same effort to map and demarcate community and indigenous lands.
“There has been little political or economic incentive for governments to map local populations’ land and resource claims, whereas the incentive to map concessions is obvious,” says the paper, which warns that the actual extent of overlapping land claims is likely much larger than available data suggests.
The lack of data also means it is difficult, if not impossible, for investors to insure against the risk of conflicts with local communities, it says.
Bryson Ogden, private sector analyst at the RRI, said companies should take matters into their own hands, go into the field and engage communities in mapping exercises to identify potentially competing claims over land. They should also recognise that legal rights are not always implemented, and come up with operational policies to engage with communities and diffuse conflicts before they erupt, he said.
“There needs to be a change in how folks are engaging with communities and dealing with the risk of conflict,” said Ogden. “At the end of the day, the world needs resources and people want economic development but this needs to happen in a sustainable manner.”
The paper was published to coincide with an international conference on community land rights in Interlaken, Switzerland, where a diverse set of conservationists, land rights activists and companies are meeting to discuss how to deal with disputes.
It follows a report from First Peoples Worldwide, which found that more than 30% of the oil and gas produced by companies listed on the Russell 1000 stock market index is sourced either on or near indigenous people’s lands.