Large land deals: Complex financial flows create routes for accountability

News, 24 March 2014
Complex webs of finance can often create barriers to sustainable development but research on large scale land deals published today by IIED shows that understanding and harnessing this complexity can create opportunities for public accountability.

Investigating land tenure issues among cocoa farmers in the Brong Ahafo and Western Region of Ghana (Photo: Emily Polack/IIED)

Co-author Dr Lorenzo Cotula will present the findings at the annual World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty on 24-27 March.

"Rather than a simple transaction between a provider and an acquirer of land, each deal may in fact involve a complex web of multiple parties," says Cotula. "This complexity creates 'pressure points' in investment chains at which action can promote public accountability in investment processes."

The players involved in large land deals include 'end investors' (banks, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds and individuals), asset management firms and lenders from which both equity and debt finance flow to companies that lease land.

These companies then interact with governments and (sometimes) communities, often through intermediary brokers – and once the deal is done, they interact with other private sector players such as the contractors and suppliers of goods and services, and the buyers of whatever the land produces.

"Understanding the relationships between these actors and the movement of capital between them puts us in a better position to influence these investment chains" says co-author, Emma Blackmore.

The report draws on case studies of ten recent large-scale land deals in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

It shows how action at various points in investment chains can improve public participation, transparency, accountability and tenure, in line with the internationally negotiated and agreed upon Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests.

"Pressure points range from factors shaping the incentive structures of asset managers to the standards and processes established by international lenders, through to action targeting buyers downstream," says Cotula.

Activation of pressure points can involve government action and regulation, or a wide range of third-party certification schemes, civil society advocacy, and action by people affected by the deals.

It may involve processes in the host state, in the investor's home country and in third countries that may be connected to the investment, as well as a range of international processes.

"Effective use of these pressure points can create opportunities to improve the terms of land deals, restrict or cancel deals or promote alternative models of agricultural investment that place small-scale producers at centre stage," says Blackmore.

Download the report.

Download a related report, also published today: Large-scale land deals in Ethiopia: Scale, trends, features and outcomes to date

For interviews contact:

Lorenzo Cotula (

Emma Blackmore (


Mike Shanahan
Press officer

International Institute for Environment and Development
80-86 Gray’s Inn Road
London WC1X 8NH, UK.
Tel: +44 (0)20 3463 7399
Fax: +44 (0)20 3514 9055


Notes to editors

The case studies the report draws upon are of deals in Brazil, Cambodia, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Laos, Liberia, Mali and Sierra Leone.

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) is an independent, non-profit research institute. Set up in 1971 and based in London, IIED provides expertise and leadership in researching and achieving sustainable development (see:

The project is funded by UK aid from the UK Government, however the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the UK Government. 

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