Helping communities push back by making better use of the law


Investments in agriculture and extractive industries can create new opportunities for local communities. But they also come with risks – including reduced access to vital land and natural resources.

A community in the Philippines protesting against a mining project in their area holds up their resolutions against the plans, developed through the support of paralegals who provided them with legal advice

These new pressures on land require communities to develop new resources and capabilities to make decisions, negotiate where appropriate, or block plans if they are not in their best interest.

Some communities are well organised and ready to engage, negotiate and resist where necessary. They are responding to land acquisitions that could negatively affect their livelihoods by, for example, petitioning local authorities, taking part in public awareness raising events, working with the media or taking legal action.

Other groups are pursuing collective action to negotiate better terms with investors and governments. These actions are often strengthened by mobilising support and linking with organisations that bring different skills and expertise.

Communities that are less informed about their rights can benefit from support in organising themselves to engage in decision-making processes and to be able to respond to the growing pressures on their land and resources.

Finding solutions to securing land and resource rights often comes from within. Starting from local knowledge is critical. A first step may involve communities mapping their customary lands or documenting the way local resources are used and managed.

The importance of legal rights

Access to legal information and sources of legal advice and support are essential ingredients for individuals or communities to have a say in these crucial decisions.

The way this information is delivered is critical. In rural communities, language matters. Oral traditions may be stronger than the written word. Storytelling may be more accessible than lecturing. Radio may be more popular than newspapers and more common than television. Training paralegals who speak the local language and understand the local culture may be one of the best ways therefore to share legal information and engage with the law.

It is also important to complement these local efforts with national-level scrutiny and advocacy to hold governments and investors to account – engaging with parliament, courts, administrative processes and public debate.

What is IIED doing?

IIED works with legal empowerment practitioners to develop materials and approaches to strengthen local to national capacity to claim rights, so as to strengthen local rights and voices within natural resource investments.

Over the years, activities have included development of training manuals or briefing notes in Ghana, Mali, Senegal and Tanzania, legal literacy trainings in Mali, and rural radio programmes in Mali and Tanzania.


Improving accountability in agricultural investments: Reflections from legal empowerment initiatives in West Africa, Thierry Berger, Lorenzo Cotula, Adrian Di Giovanni, Mamadou Fall, Mark Kakraba-​Ampeh, Samuel Nguiffo, Téodyl Nkuintchua, Eric Yeboah (2017) Report

Additional resources

Land investments, accountability and the law: lessons from West Africa, Lorenzo Cotula and Giedre Jokubauskaite (2016) IIED, Land, Investment and Rights series | en français

Land investments, accountability and the law: lessons from Cameroon, Pierre-Etienne Kenfack, Samuel Nguiffo and Téodyl Nkuintchua (2016) IIED, Land, Investment and Rights series | en français

Land investments, accountability and the law: lessons from Ghana, Eric Yeboah and Mark Kakraba-Ampeh (2016) IIED, Land, Investment and Rights series | en français

Land investments, accountability and the law: lessons from Senegal, Mamadou Fall and Moustapha Ngaido (2016) IIED, Land, Investment and Rights series | en français

Following the money: an advocate’s guide to securing accountability for agricultural investments, Emma Blackmore, Natalie Bugalski, David Pred (2015), IIED report, Land, Investment and Rights series

Agricultural investments in Southeast Asia: Legal tools for public accountability, Emily Polack, Lorenzo Cotula, Emma Blackmore and Shalmali Guttal (2014), IIED, Land, Investment and Rights series

Understanding agricultural investment chains: Lessons to improve governance, Lorenzo Cotula and Emma Blackmore (2014), IIED, Land, Investment and Rights series

Land and investment laws: How can communities influence investment models and get a better deal?, Tanzania Natural Resource Forum (2014), TNRF Policy briefing

Grievance and redress mechanisms: What should I do when my rights are infringed?, Tanzania Natural Resource Forum (2014), TNRF Policy briefing

What do you need to know about land rights?, Tanzania Natural Resource Forum (2014), TNRF Policy briefing

From legal caravans to revising the mining code: Lessons from experience with legal empowerment in communities affected by mining, Mali, Amadou Keita, Moussa Djiré and Lorenzo Cotula (2014), IIED | en français

Manuel à l’intention des formateurs vivant dans les zones minières, Djibonding Dembelé, Moussa Djiré, Mamadou Fomba, Amadou Keita, Issa Makan Keita, Bala Konaré, Nagoungou Sanou, Kadari Traoré and Kader Traoré (2010), IIED and GERSDA 

Handbook for paralegals in forest communities in Ghana, Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) and IIED (2009), CEPIL

Instruments juridiques pour la sécurisation des droits fonciers des populations à la base. Un guide pour les élus et les populations locales, IED Afrique (2008), IIED and IED Afrique

Animated film: Promoting accountability in agricultural investment chains (2015), IIED