By: Carin Smaller, Howard Mann, IISD, 2009.
Paper, 26 pages, copyright: IISD
The paper, A Thirst for Distant Lands: Foreign investment in agricultural land and water, provides a synopsis of current trends in the expansion of foreign investment in agriculture. Drawing on current literature, media reports and a series of interviews, the paper looks at the causes, the mechanisms and the growth, in particular, of long-distance farming for home-country consumption.
The paper considers both the land and water issues that are involved. Much of the existing literature focuses on the investment in land, addressing water as an adjunct problem only. However, land without the water is of little value to the investors. In IISD’s view, the land and water issues are equally critical, raising similar problems to local communities and developing countries. The paper, therefore, examines some of the uncertainties and impacts relating to the commodification of land and water for long-distance agriculture.
In particular, the paper focuses on the linkage between domestic law, international investment contracts and international investment treaties. Each of these three sources of law can have positive and negative implications for community and individual rights to land, water and food. The initial scoping of issues reveals the potential for the international law sources to prevail over domestic law, providing foreign users with enforceable rights at the expense of local rights’ holders, particularly where domestic law is insufficient to identify and protect citizen rights. This situation can be addressed, but it requires specific and deliberate efforts.