GoJIL Vol. 3, No. 1 (2011)
Resource Conflicts over Arable Land in Food Insecure States: Creating an United Nations Ombudsman Institution to Review Foreign Agricultural Land Leases
In the last decade of globalization, States in the Middle East, East Asia, Europe, and North America have looked towards Africa and Southeast Asia for opportunities to lease for 30-50 years large tracts of arable land for production of commodity crops and biofuels in order to meet the needs of home markets. Facing their own governance challenges, States in Africa and Southeast Asia have leased land to private foreign investors without requiring any environmental review or mitigation of the proposed land leases. This paper argues that in food insecure states the recent flurry of land leasing activity to foreign agribusiness is likely to lead to unintended long term consequences for the ecology in land-leasing States by depleting the already fragile environment through monocropping, chemical pesticide and fertilizer applications, and large scale irrigation.
This paper argues that international investment law may provide foreign investors with legal protection if land leasing States in the future decide to regulate the leases in a manner that discriminates against large agribusiness. The current proposals for self-regulatory voluntary codes of conduct do not provide sufficient oversight over the leasing process to protect the public’s interest in a healthy and productive environment against foreign investors who have under the current lease structure no incentive to improve the land that they are leasing. The creation of an United Nations based ombudsman to provide legal and technical oversight and support for States making long-term leases has greater potential than a voluntary code for ensuring a balanced negotiation among the interests of host State governments for investment, investors for arable land, and the public for long-term sustainability.
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