Can a half-acre of dry earth be more precious than gold? To farmers, herders and foragers in some of the world's poorest countries, the answer is very literally yes. Goldmining, agribusiness and other natural resource investments typically promise new jobs and public revenues. But they can also push poorer groups off their land and pollute their waterways.

Mechanised farming in Tanzania. Land purchases by foreign investment companies for agribusinesses are pushing farmers off their land. Using legal rights effectively can help local people get a better deal for themselves and their communities (Photo: Africa Renewal)

Strengthening local rights and voices

Effective use of legal rights can be a powerful tool for rural communities to shape development agendas and increase local control, benefit sharing and public accountability in investment processes.

This requires concerted action at multiple levels – from calling on international human rights bodies, to rethinking international investment treaties and contracts to mobilising grassroots action to engage in legal reforms, register collective landholdings and enable communities to claim their rights.

Local level legal literacy and human rights advisory support requires diverse approaches from legal caravans, paralegal programmes, radio broadcasts or local deliberation tools.

This is the aim of the Legal Tools for Citizen Empowerment project, a collaborative initiative to strengthen local rights and voices in the context of natural resource investments in low-income countries.

What is IIED doing?

Led by IIED and launched in 2006, Legal Tools is put into practice together with a range of partners in Africa and Asia.

The Legal Tools for Citizen Empowerment programme:


Lorenzo Cotula ( Programme lead

Emily Polack (

Philippine Sutz (