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UN Body Delays Efforts To Regulate “Land Grabs”

AUN intergovernmental body on food security has failed to adopt international guidelines on land governance, delaying efforts to regulate so-called land grabbing as investors race to snap up agricultural land.

A voluntary code of conduct has been in the works since 2008, driven by concerns that countries such as China and Gulf Arab states are buying swathes of land in Africa and Asia to secure their own food supplies, often at the expense of local people.

Olivier De Schutter, the UN s special rapporteur on the right to food, said three-quarters of the guidelines had been agreed upon in a meeting last week but that rules on large-scale investment in farmland remained a sticking point.

The negotiations have not been finalized, but are on a good track, De Schutter said in an interview Oct. 17. But it s much better to have extremely detailed and ambitious guidelines even if it takes time.

He said members of the UN Committee on Food Security (CFS) would meet again at the start of 2012, when they hoped to reach a final draft agreement, and that the guidelines would probably be ratified in about a year from now. They had originally aimed to agree on a final draft last week.

The guidelines will form the basis for the first of seven principles for responsible agricultural investment, drawn up by the World Bank and other U.N. agencies but yet to be adopted internationally.

The first of those principles will relate to recognition and respect for existing land rights. Further principles say investment should not jeopardize food security and that all those materially affected should be consulted.

A spike in food prices to record levels in 2007-08 sparked a wave of land deals as food-importing countries and major agricultural businesses sought to increase their supplies and protect themselves from price volatility.

Investors are now scrambling to snap up land assets before the sector becomes more regulated, as uncertainty in financial markets makes land an increasingly attractive investment, De Schutter said.

Not just the stock markets but also the bond markets are less and less reliable and predictable, and less promising for investors, so they are more interested than ever in land, he said.

There is now a race between investors coming into countries and the international community wanting to regulate this process in order to avoid it having fearsome consequences, he said.

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