Public overseas investments: ensuring respect for and protecting legitimate land tenure rights. Rapid evidence assessment


This rapid evidence assessment (REA) investigates how public overseas investments supported by developed country governments respect legitimate land tenure rights, especially in countries without a strong system for protecting existing tenure rights. The REA assesses material from the limited number of studies (20) available about donor-supported investment projects involving land. Most are from African countries, but the evidence also includes cases from Afghanistan, Guatemala and Cambodia. Agricultural projects predominate, while two cases look at the impact of road projects on local land rights. The studies suggest that:

  • Most foreign direct investment (FDI) actors are aware of the need to accommodate local land rights. Nevertheless, evidence from a wider body of material relating to FDI-based and private sector projects shows that most large land-based investments are failing to take into account either legitimate local rights and/or local livelihoods impacts
  • Where a public donor is present – either directly funding or promoting a project – and is advocating the use of instruments, like the FAO Voluntary guidelines on the good governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests (VGGT) and the Principles for responsible investments in agriculture and food systems (RAI), investment projects can include effective mitigation measures and/or be designed to produce real benefits for those holding legitimate rights over the land used
  • Inclusive business and investment models (i.e. models which engage communities fully and allow sharing of the investment benefits while respecting community land needs) are available which bring local people fully into the project process and turn it into an opportunity for social development and life-enhancing changes
  • Donors must be fully informed about legitimate local rights at the design and appraisal stages of new projects, and cannot assume that government or private sector partners will rigorously adhere to agreed approaches
  • There is a need for more research into how projects, funded or supported by donors, can be designed and implemented to ensure respect for and protect legitimate local tenure rights. In this context there are some ‘sub-issues’ which come to the fore:
    • Some of the less robust evidence used in the REA merits more rigorous research to either confirm the points made and/or provide policy makers with greater understanding of how to address them (e.g. does titling facilitate easier private sector access, and are ‘responsible’ investors really not respecting guidelines?)
    • Research on the broader issue of publicly funded projects should also pay more attention to the gender and women’s rights dimension of such investments, and the intergenerational dynamics of land deals.

This report has been produced for Evidence on Demand with the assistance of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) contracted through the Climate, Environment, Infrastructure and Livelihoods Professional Evidence and Applied Knowledge Services (CEIL PEAKS) programme, jointly managed by DAI (which incorporates HTSPE Limited) and IMC Worldwide Limited.


Tanner, C.; Scalise, E.; Mutema, M. Public overseas investments: ensuring respect for and protecting legitimate land tenure rights. Rapid evidence assessment. Evidence on Demand, UK (2015) vii + 57 pp. [DOI: 10.12774/eod_cr.august2015.tannercetal]

Public overseas investments: ensuring respect for and protecting legitimate land tenure rights. Rapid evidence assessment

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