FOOD, BEVERAGE AND AGRICULTURE COMPANIES’ BUSINESS MODELS ARE ROOTED IN SYSTEMS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO WORSENING LAND INEQUALITY. CAN COMPANIES BE PART OF THE SOLUTION? YES, UNDER CERTAIN CONDITIONS. LEARN HOW!
Food, beverage, and agriculture companies’ very business models are rooted in colonial systems that have deprived people of their rights for generations, thus contributing to worsening land inequality. Is it possible for companies to be part of the solution? Yes, under certain conditions - Oxfam and ILC argue in the “Doing business on uneven ground” briefing.
Between March 13th and May 3rd we hosted a series of three Learning Labs for civil society leaders and practitioners interested in exploring how a value chain approach may help address land inequality, and advance IP&LC and small farmers’ interests: we dived into specific issues and case studies, and facilitated exchanges with representatives from the private sector.
Gustavo Ferroni, Rural Justice & Development lead, Oxfam Brasil | Emmanuel Mlaka, Executive Director of Land Governance Alliance (LAGA), Malawi | Asisah Man, Land Governance Coordinator, Oxfam in Cambodia | Laura Eshbach, Director of Corporate Engagement, LANDESA | Petra Hamers, Policy Lead Climate Resilient Livelihoods, Climate Resilience Unit, Oxfam Novib | Andiko St. Mancayo, Senior Lawyer, AsM Law Office, Indonesia | Thais Bessa, Gender Advisor, Tetra Tech | Tione Malizani, Extension Officer for Phata Sugarcane Outgrowers Cooperative Society Ltd| Kate Chibwana, Coordinator National Land Coalition Malawi | Andrew Cochrane, Group Head of Grower Agriculture, Illovo Sugar Africa | Chloe Christman Cole, Lead author of the briefing, Oxfam | Stephanie Burgos, Key contributor to the briefing, Oxfam | Yonas Mekonen, National Land Coalition initiative Global Coordinator, ILC | Rukshana Nanayakkara, Global policy and advocacy expert, ILC.
CAN COMPANIES BE PART OF THE SOLUTION?
In the first Lab, Oxfam provided an overview of the “Doing business on uneven ground” briefing on how the business models of companies are part of the problem of land inequality while recognizing that under certain conditions companies can be part of the solution. Panelists from Cambodia, Malawi and Brazil explained why and how they have engaged with the private sector, and the risks and challenges they have faced.
Emmanuel Mlaka - Executive Director of Land Governance Alliance (LAGA) in Malawi - considered very important to engage the private sector on land investment matters. As an agricultural country, the wellbeing of farmers and rural communities depends on their access to land. Yet large-scale investors often dispossess customary landholders and small farmers, affecting their right to food. But LAGA has also identified companies operating with a more inclusive business model, engaging communities in free, prior and informed consent processes and benefit-sharing. They have documented best practices and engaged companies to advocate for such approaches.
In Cambodia people are suffering from conflict over land between local farmers and private investors because of unequal land allocation. According to Asisah Man - Land Governance Coordinator of Oxfam in Cambodia - “companies are part of the problem and in some circumstances they are able to change their behavior in order to address those problems.” To influence companies in Cambodia, Oxfam has worked on the ground to gather strong evidence of the impact of investments on local communities and presented it directly to companies, while proposing solutions for how companies can do things differently to address the problems. They combine tactics, working at the global level to bring to the attention of multinational buyers the problems in their supply chains, and leveraging the pressure that these brand companies can bring to bear on their suppliers, while engaging with companies locally to get them to the negotiating table where they can hear directly from local communities and discuss solutions to land conflicts.
“Without media and diversity of approach – advocacy and influencing – it is hard to bring companies into accountable and responsible investments.” Asisah Man - Land Governance Coordinator, Oxfam in Cambodia.
Gustavo Ferroni - Rural Justice & Development lead in Oxfam Brasil - explained that in Brazil Oxfam both campaigns against and engages with companies, using a case-by-case approach. They engage companies on specific cases of land rights violations but also raise broader issues underlying the cases and what companies need to do to implement commitments - such as zero tolerance for land grabs and ensuring communities provide their free, prior and informed consent. They push brand companies to leverage their power so suppliers engage in negotiations, but also to engage the public sector, which must be part of the solution. “Companies engage with the public sector a lot for their own interests, and they need to do so also to help protect human rights and address land issues.” Gustavo also talked about the risks involved, particularly for land, environmental and human rights defenders, as large landowners are very powerful.
“We need to think both about how to make companies accountable but also what type of protection we need for those communities and peoples who are being affected.” Gustavo Ferroni - Rural Justice & Development lead, Oxfam Brasil.
HOW TO ENGAGE COMPANIES ON THE LAND-CLIMATE NEXUS
The second Lab addressed the intersection of land inequality and the climate crisis. Agriculture, forestry and other land use activities account for nearly a quarter of global carbon emissions. Food, beverage and agriculture companies are beginning to adopt science-based targets to reduce their emissions from agriculture and land-use activities, but there are risks that climate actions could worsen land inequality. There is a need for new business models to address land inequality and the climate crisis together, holistically. Three panelists shared their views and experiences on what can work to this end and what is needed to avoid adverse impacts from climate action on local communities.
Petra Hamers - Policy Lead Climate Resilient Livelihoods of the Climate Resilience Unit in Oxfam Novib - explained that the so-called “land-based” or “nature-based” solutions to the climate crisis focus on mitigation, avoiding emissions, removing carbon from the atmosphere, and protecting and restoring ecosystems. They can also address biodiversity loss and the challenges faced by people living in those ecosystems. But whether nature-based solutions have positive impacts on ecosystems and local populations, or end up as mostly ‘greenwashing’, will depend on how they are designed and implemented. To prevent greenwashing, company actions must address the root causes of carbon emissions, avoid false solutions that have adverse social and environmental consequences, directly engage local stakeholders and address their needs.
“Companies are realizing more and more that these risks to planet and people are all wrapped up together. They have been dealing with environmental risks and social risks in different ways for a long time, and only in the last few years have I seen more and more of them looking at how do we tackle these two things together.” Laura Eshbach - Director of Corporate Engagement, LANDESA.
Landscape approaches can be an effective way to address the intersection of land and climate issues. Petra explained that while landscape approaches initially did not take local people into account, that is now changing. “A peoples landscape approach looks first at the people living in the landscape and how they depend on the landscape for their food production and water, but also for timber, fuel, protection against nature’s impacts, cultural values, etc.” Looking at a landscape from the perspective of how to build resilience and ensure food security of the local population, while reducing the risk of disasters, requires starting with a multistakeholder analysis and planning process working with local governments and companies, as well as communities and civil society groups. Landscape approaches are multistakeholder, have a long-term vision, and have as starting point natural resource governance and food security.
Andiko St. Mancayo - Senior Lawyer at AsM Law Office in Indonesia - reflected on his 20 years of experience addressing conflicts between communities and investors. The entire landscape must be understood and addressed holistically, with the direct engagement of all local communities. He also talked about challenges in getting companies’ public commitments to be fully implemented by their suppliers on the ground.Public pressure is necessary to hold companies accountable and to push them to ensure their suppliers comply with their commitments on human rights, land and climate-related standards.
While some companies have made commitments and are trying to do the right thing, they may need help with implementation. And they need to feel continued pressure holding them accountable.
Community-based monitoring of company operations within the landscape can help to address the implementation gap and ensure that company commitments to standards are fully put into practice by suppliers on the ground.
HOW TO ENGAGE THE PRIVATE SECTOR TO PROTECT AND RESPECT HUMAN RIGHTS
The third Lab explored experiences from two cases where companies are doing business differently, helping to ensure respect for human rights and working proactively to address their role in rising land inequality.
In West Bengal, India, Pepsico has partnered with USAID in an initiative to promote women’s economic empowerment in the potato supply chain in order to achieve positive social, economic and environmental impacts. Working with farming communities to improve women’s access to key productive resources like land, to build the skills they need, and to increase recognition of women in the supply chain has driven change in communities. As a result, families of women involved in the initiative have overall higher productivity and profitability, and are adopting sustainable farming practices. The program has also helped to shift harmful gender norms that have restricted women’s access to and control of land, which underpins inequality in communities.
“We believe that when women have equal access to resources like land and extension services and knowledge, there are benefits for rural families but also for the bottom line of companies in the agricultural sector.” Thais Bessa - Gender Advisor at Tetra Tech.
In Malawi, the Phata cooperative enables smallholder farmers to partner with Illovo Sugar Malawi while retaining ownership of their land and benefiting from its production. Farmers hold shares in the coop based on the amount of land they provided for sugarcane production, and Phata has established a long-term relationship and supplier agreement with Illovo. According to Andrew Cochrane - Group Head of Grower Agriculture, Illovo Sugar Africa - there is a business imperative to support the Phata cooperative model, as Illovo wants an optimized and sustainable sugarcane supply from growers who are engaged in ethical practices.
“The work that is being done in Phata as well as other small grower communities around it is very much in line with our social inclusion policy and creating shared value as a company. Our desire is for a thriving rural community in the areas where we operate, that we would be welcomed as a responsible investor.” Andrew Cochrane - Group Head of Grower Agriculture, Illovo Sugar Africa.
Kate Chibwana - Coordinator of the Malawi National Land Coalition - explained that Malawi’s economy is based on agriculture, so land is an essential asset for families. Ensuring and protecting the land rights of communities is key when it comes to building resilient livelihoods.
“What this [Phata] model does first of all is protect and ensure that community land remains within the community and that it is transferable over generations, therefore creating generational wealth. It is also generating income and thus disincentivizing the selling of land which is leaving a lot of communities destitute.” Kate Chibwana - Coordinator of the Malawi National Land Coalition.
The success of the Phata model was due to several factors, in particular a process of engagement between the company and the community over more than three years based on the principle of free, prior and informed consent, and support from donors. Andrew reflected that “effective partnerships are essential.” To establish such partnerships requires farmers to be well informed and know their rights.
“There is a need to sensitize communities that there exists an arrangement where farmers can work together and share the benefits while their land rights are protected.” Tione Malizani - Extension Officer for Phata Sugarcane Outgrowers Cooperative Society Ltd.
Kate reflected that “We have a tendency to work in different silos but CSOs have to now embrace the fact that we have other partners like Illovo from the private sector that are willing to come in and work with us. Government has a role to play as well.” She concluded that it is important to keep learning from the Phata model and others like it in order to understand how to effectively apply them in other contexts and value chains.
With thanks to Stephanie Burgos, Senior Policy Strategist at Oxfam, for this article.
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