World Bank Group: Access to Land is Critical for the Poor

April 8, 2013

WASHINGTON, April 8, 2013 – As the Annual World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty convened this week in Washington, DC, The World Bank Group issued the following statement:

By 2050, the world will have two billion more people to feed. To do that, global agricultural production will need to increase by 70 percent. That calls for substantial new investment in agriculture-- in smallholders and large farms—from both the public and private sectors. 

But investment alone will not be enough. High and volatile food and fuel prices and the effects of climate change and scarce resources make the challenge even more daunting. Unless crop yields can be raised, many people will remain hungry, under-nourished, and unable to seize opportunities to improve their lives.

Usable land is in short supply, and there are too many instances of speculators and unscrupulous investors exploiting smallholder farmers, herders, and others who lack the power to stand up for their rights.  This is particularly true in countries with weak land governance systems.

“The World Bank Group shares these concerns about the risks associated with large-scale land acquisitions,” said World Bank Group President Dr. Jim Yong Kim. “Securing access to land is critical for millions of poor people. Modern, efficient, and transparent policies on land rights are vital to reducing poverty and promoting growth, agriculture production, better nutrition, and sustainable development.

“We have ramped up our investments in agriculture in recent years, helping smallholders increase productivity, reduce waste, access markets and secure clear land rights,” continued Kim. We are working to provide more access to finance for women farmers and entrepreneurs. But additional efforts must be made to build capacity and safeguards related to land rights—and to empower civil society to hold governments accountable.”

The World Bank Group is scaling up efforts to:

  •  improve land governance through increased transparency, accountability, and participation in decision making.
  • protect the rights of land owners and realize benefits for smallholder farmers.
  • promote policies that recognize all forms of land tenure and help women achieve equal treatment in obtaining land rights.
  •  promote environmentally and socially sustainable agriculture investments.

The World Bank Group has been an advocate of transparency and fostering more open resource governance. Making basic information about land transfers public will benefit everybody.

The World Bank Group supports and endorses the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (“the VGs”). These guidelines are a major international instrument to inform specific policy reforms, including our own procedures and guidance to clients.  The World Bank Group is already working with countries to implement the VGs, with a special focus on Africa.

The World Bank has launched a consultative process with all stakeholders to review and update our environmental and social safeguards policies, which will be informed by the VGs. Land acquisition is a part of this conversation.

The World Bank Group is partnering with other stakeholders to support the drafting and adoption of Responsible Agricultural Investment principles through engagement with the UN Global Compact and FAO's Committee on Food Security.

The World Bank Group and its partners have also developed the Land Governance Assessment Framework (LGAF) as a diagnostic tool to assess the status of land governance at the country level. LGAF assessments have been carried out—or are underway—in 18 countries, 10 of them in Africa.

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group that focuses on the private sector, is working to promote responsible agricultural investments by the private sector and to expand the use of international best practices in environmental and social risk management and transparency. IFC’s Performance Standards were recently strengthened and address many aspects of the VGs, including impacts of land acquisition especially with regard to transparency, community tenure and use rights, and processes for informed consent and fair compensation.

IFC has enhanced its due diligence and early-risk assessment procedures to assess local food security impacts of potential agricultural investments that require large land areas. It is also piloting new requirements for transparency in cases of land transfers from the government to private investors.

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