Challenge of land acquisition for large-scale Agriculture investments

By 2050, the world’s population will reach an estimated 9.8 billion from the current of 7.6 billion. A major concern will be the issue of food security and sustained agricultural production to help feed this growing population.

The current agriculture landscape is dominated by two major players – smallholder farmers and large-scale producers (commercial farms).

The contribution of smallholder farmers although significant cannot sustain the food security needs of the future. Large-scale investments into farming are the guaranteed means of supplying the food needs of today and the future.

However, a key barrier to increasing investments into large-scale agriculture production is land acquisition and use practices. This barrier exists due to the following reasons;

  • Non-existence of national policy and regulation on large-scale agriculture land acquisition and use
  • Multiple sale of land by private owners where the same piece of land is sold to multiple parties claiming same interest in the land
  • Unsettled boundary disputes, ownership disputes etc. Some of which have subsisted for several years preventing the use of the land by any of the parties
  • The absence of a centralized database for agricultural land acquisition

The significance of this barrier is that, large-scale agriculture lands cannot be acquired without its attendant problems for the purposes of increased and large-scale production to meet increasing food demands for human consumption and industrial use – The Government of Ghana flagship programs – ‘One District, One Factory’ and ‘Planting for Food and Jobs’ for instance are in jeopardy if large-scale productions cannot be commenced.

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Presently, increase in agricultural output in Sub-Saharan African has predominately accrued from area expansion as opposed to large scale improvements in productivity.

This highlights the potential of large scale farming in making significant contributions to agricultural outputs going into the future (OCED/FAO, 2016).

One of the reasons to be optimistic about Africa’s Agricultural potential is that there remains huge areas of uncultivated arable land that could be brought into production (AGRA, 2017).

However, in Africa private property rights over land in the shape of legally recognized title that can be exchanged in the market place are less developed than elsewhere in the world. The complex system of property rights affect access to land.

It is in the light of the current complexities that a legislative intervention is required to provide a well-coordinated one stop approach to risk free land acquisition and use for large-scale agricultural investments.

A proposed regulatory intervention must include the following;

  • The creation of state-led agriculture land banks.
  • The enactment of large scale land user laws under the established land banks.

For the purposes of creating the stated-led land banks, government must take advantage of its strong negotiation position for a voluntary or negotiated submission of lands privately owned for consolidation into agriculture land banks for ease of acquisition by large-scale production investors.

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Due to the commercial importance of this consolidation, government must not use the existing legal framework where lands can be acquired compulsorily subject to the payment of the necessary compensation to the land owners.

The proposed land banks must be promoted on purely commercial basis where government is not required to pre-finance acquisitions through the payment of compensations.

But where voluntary or negotiated submission of lands is underpinned by structured land owners’ benefit schemes where when the lands are ultimately acquired for large-scale agriculture production by investors, owners are entitled to participate in the proceeds.

The consolidation and establishment of these land banks must be backed by legislation to ensure the establishment of a state-led administrative body either under Lands Commission or the Ministry of Food and Agriculture to supervise the processes leading to the grant of such lands.

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Secondly, with the establishment of the state-led land banks, large-scale land user laws must be enacted to regulate the use of these land purely for large-scale agriculture purposes, protect the interest of the original land owners, promote responsible investments with key focus on employment of local labour, environmental protection, water bodies’ management and climate change among others.

The need to sustain agricultural outputs to meet growing food needs for human consumption and industrial purposes demands urgent attention.

Large-scale agriculture investment is critical to achieving this goal. It is therefore urgent to enact large-scale agriculture land acquisition and use laws.

Source: Richard Nunekpeku []

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