Large scale land acquisitions for food and biofuel production by (mostly foreign) agro-industrial investors have surged as a substantial phenomenon in developing countries in the last 2-3 years. Already 30 million hectares or half of Europe’s agricultural land are said to have been bought or leased, much of it in poor and poorly governed countries in Subsahara Africa. Although food presently seems to dominate motivations for land acquisitions, in the end food and biofuel production are two sides of the same coin if it comes to large scale land acquisitions: They fundamentally change the access of local populations to natural resources, the way resources are used, and the way production and incomes are organised, owned and distributed, not to talk about the changes of ways of live of rural populations. In addition, often production and raw materials can be easily switched between different purposes. Due to the size of these acquisitions there are justified fears that they can substantially harm rural development and food security in the affected countries. On the other hand, these investments bring desperately needed capital, innovation, market access and jobs into rural areas which are often not ideal worlds but marked by poverty, food insecurity and long-term soil mining and resource degradation. The present article discusses whether large scale land acquisition can be expected to be a long term phenomenon, which opportunities and threats exist for different actors, and which institutional challenges have to be dealt with if such investments are to be development-friendly. It is based on a case study on bioenergy potential in Namibia and an analysis of the literature. Unfortunately, the latter is of limited value for the time being because details of land acquisition deals are generally not open to public scrutiny. Thus, the key conclusion is that more transparency in this kind of deals is indispensable. In addition, existing land and user rights as well as compensation mechanisms have to be carefully respected, food security clauses have to be integrated into international trade, investment agreements and investment contracts, land use management, environmental and biosafety rules must be respected, provisions for risk management, moderation and litigation should be formulated, and overall policy coordination is important to make large scale land investments development friendly.


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