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The LANDforum

On the 7th and 8th of November 2013 LANDac organized the first LANDforum meeting: a group of policy makers, practitioners, private sector representatives and researchers gathered at Utrecht University and discussed new ways to optimize the links between land-related investments, food security and inclusive sustainable development. This meeting in Utrecht was a first step towards the establishment of a multi-stakeholder network and think-tank that met again in 2014, 2015 and 2016.


In 2010, LANDac started a number of PhD trajectories and a series of short-term research projects. Building upon this research, LANDac has developed the LANDforum. The LANDforum provides a platform to learn from each other’s experiences: it sets out to facilitate the exchange of information between countries and between different sectors in a systematic way and for a longer period of time. The forum has been conducted for four years in a row and has also been represented at the annual World Bank Land & Poverty Conference, thus guaranteeing a continuity of exchange.

Moreover, the LANDforum aimed to contribute to building bridges: linking people between countries and between sectors that are often not connected to each other and work separately. Representatives of various groups such as the private sector, policy makers, development practitioners and researchers are brought together on a longer-term basis. This offered opportunities for cross-fertilization as well as for developing a community of practice. The starting point is a comparative approach: several developing countries that have recently been targeted by European and other investors in land–related projects are compared in the deliberations, as are the roles of different types of actors. In addition to ‘north-south’ investment relationships, attention is also given to increasing ‘south-south’ investments.


The question ‘Under what conditions can foreign and domestic agribusiness contribute to food security and inclusive and sustainable development in Africa, Asia and Latin America?’, framed the launch of the LANDforum in 2013, a Netherlands-hosted think tank comprised of private sector representatives, policy makers, practitioners and researchers from a number of selected countries. The main objectives of the Forum were: facilitating the systematic exchange of information between countries over an extended period; facilitating dialogue between people from different countries and sectors that ordinarily do not interact; allowing for a comparative approach within a mix of ‘target’ countries and ‘investor’ countries, including south-south relationships. After four years, the LANDforum has yielded a number of important practical insights:

  1. The LANDforum showed a shared interest among sectors in inclusive business. Whereas inclusive business as a response to adverse effects of large-scale investments in agriculture is a theme that has recently become integral to donor and government development strategies (even more so in the context of SDGs), there is insufficient understanding of the social performance of different types of inclusive businesses in different contexts. Also, there is often lack of critical reflection on whether and to what extent and under what conditions inclusive businesses are in fact inclusive. This reduces the capacity of inclusive development strategies to deliver impacts at scale and raises a second key question of the LANDforum that needs to be discussed: What is the impact of inclusive business on local development, including food security?
  2. Most attention in current debates has departed from a private sector point of view: how to make businesses more inclusive (through CSR, government policies, civil society participation etc.). By creating a level playing field, the LANDforum has provided an important platform for sharing ideas about the importance of community-based ideas: What do we know about grass-roots investment initiatives?

Participants of the first LANDforum hailed from Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Mozambique, Uganda and the Netherlands and all have a professional interest in investments in land and agriculture in their work at universities, knowledge centers, civil society organizations, farmer’s organizations, governments, donor organizations, farms, enterprises and investment funds. The central aim of the first meeting was to explore the current situation in each of the selected countries, to set the agenda, and to identify the topics for research and debate. Participants discussed the current situation in the different countries within country groups: what can others learn from the experiences in your country and what do you see as the main challenge for realizing and optimizing the impact in terms of sustainable and equitable development? On the second day, experiences were exchanged between the different countries in four sector-based working groups: business, civil society, public sector and research. They also discussed their potential roles in fostering positive outcomes. At the end of the second day, the country teams presented priority themes and proposed possibilities for follow-up activities in the countries.

The discussions focused on identifying examples of positive land investments, i.e. cases of positive business results that also yield clear benefits for local people; ways in which others can learn from the experiences of different countries; and the main challenges for optimizing the development impact of investments in land and agriculture. The discussions set the agenda for the LANDforum meetings in the coming years. Although it is too soon for conclusions, the open atmosphere and frank exchanges of this first LANDforum gathering looks promising for future discussions on new and innovative approaches. The country teams have been asked to think of follow-up activities based on the two-day discussions and in preparation for further sessions. And the LANDforum secretariat, in collaboration with members, prepared a proposal for a round table discussion around a priority theme identified: experiences with benefit sharing arrangements in the different LANDforum countries, to be organized for the Land & Poverty Conference at the World Bank in March 2014. The outcomes of this round table will provide a starting point for the next LANDforum meeting in 2014.