Legal and social accountability tools in agricultural investments in West Africa

In recent years, a wave of large-scale acquisitions of farmland for plantation agriculture has taken place in Africa, Asia and Latin America, fuelled by changing agricultural commodity prices, expectations of rising land values and public policies to promote long-term food and energy security. Developing tools to improve accountability is critical in ensuring that investment processes respond to local needs and aspirations.

Lorenzo Cotula

Principal researcher and head of law, economies and justice programme, Natural Resources research group

Law, economies and justice
A collaborative programme of work on renegotiating the law to promote fairer, more sustainable economies
Farmers tend crops in a field

Isaka and Mary, subsistence farmers in Southern Ghana. Smallholders need support to help increase their involvement in decisions about land ownership and investment (Photo: BBC World Service via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

This three-year collaborative research project aimed to improve accountability in the governance of land and investment in Ghana, Cameroon and Senegal.

Like in many other parts of Africa, large-scale land acquisitions have been a growing trend in these three countries. Large amounts of lands have already been allocated to private investors and, in several instances, land acquisition processes have been accompanied by conflict.

There is a need to develop practical tools that can improve accountability to ensure that investment processes respond to local needs and aspirations.

Led by Dakar-based organisation IED Afrique, the project carried out participatory assessments of the constraints and opportunities presented by the legal frameworks regulating agricultural investments. Focusing on selected sites in Cameroon, Ghana and Senegal, the project also developed tools to improve downward accountability in agricultural investment processes.

The project aimed to promote more active community engagement in advocacy activities to increase local control over the governance of land and investment and changes in national laws to align them with the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Forests and Fisheries.

It also aimed to promote a regional community of practice on ways to improve accountability in investment processes and found, despite a variety of approaches, some common themes between the three countries, including: an emphasis on strengthening
accountability between authorities and their constituencies; interventions that sought to equip communities to identify problems and pursue their own solutions; and not just a focus on technical tools but approaches to embed the action in local institutions.