Pacific land rights and keeping them safe from big developers

28 Jan 2013

ABC Radio

The Pacific is a long way from Davos, in Switzerland, where world leaders have been meeting.

One report launched at Davos, signals a change in thinking which could have implications for landowners.

The World Economic Forum's study 'A New Vision for Agriculture' moves from the usual practice of big agricultural companies in the developing world.

Instead, it argues that small-holder-inclusive projects that work in partnership with the private sector, government and civil society are the way forward.

Correspondent: Jemima Garrett

Speakers: Orlando Bloom, actor; Bill Gates, philanthropist and Chairman of Microsoft; David Harewood, actor; Lisa Drier, Director of Food Security and Development Initiatives, World Economic Forum; Kirk Huffman, former director, Vanuatu Cultural Centre

GARRETT: Across the developing world there has been a land grab taking place which has seen millions of traditional owners pushed off their land in favour of big agriculture.

It has created a global outcry.

Last week more than 100 British-based aid organisations and charities launched a campaign calling on UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, to use his Presidency of the G8 group of countries, to tackle the issue.

The campaign called 'Enough food for Everyone IF' comes with online animations and videos and has the backing of some heavy hitters - including as you'll hear in this clip film star, Orlando Bloom, Information Technology Tycoon and philanthropist, Bill Gates, and actor, David Harewood.

BLOOM: The World produces enough food for everyone. Why are One Billion people going hungry?

GATES: Hunger not only caused very real human tragedy. It also costs economies billions of dollars. This doesn't make sense.

HAREWOOD: Enough food for everyone if we stop poor farmers loosing their land.

GARRETT: Big agriculture is also rethinking its approach to the developing world.

Its report 'A New vision for Agriculture' was released to co-incide with the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Lisa Drier, the World Economic Forum's Director of Food Security and Development Initiatives, used the report's launch video to explain.

DRIER: We started the New Vision for Agriculture in 2009 with 17 global companies that were concerned about the issue of global food sustainability. It basically says that agriculture should make a positive contribution to three things; food security, environmental sustainability and economic opportunity. And part of the message of the vision is that you can't sacrifice one for the other, which we have sometimes done in the past. We have to start with farmers and put the farmers at the centre of this whole effort.

GARRETT: The New Vision for Agriculture sees the private sector working with landowners, governments and NGOs to improve livelihoods and boost production.

It is a big change from the days when business saw landowners as an obstacle to agricultural development.

Aid organisations are questioning just how much of a philosophical step has been taken.

Kirk Huffman, is former Director of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, is also sceptical about big agriculture's ability to live up to its rhetoric.

HUFFMAN: The 'If' campaign seems to be more sympathetic to indigenous land rights. The world economic Forum mentions small-holders. It recognises the importance of traditional agricultural systems and stuff like that but it is sponsored by a whole load of private sector companies. If you read the list which is on the last page of the report you get really scared. They are the sort of companies that if you combined the amount of knowledge that they have ..knowledge of and respect for indigenous land systems, you could put the combined knowledge of all of them on the head of a small pin.

GARRETT: They are indeed the big companies. the fact that they are starting, at least, to mention small-holders, is that a step forward or..?

HUFFMAN: That is a major step forward. It's a major step forward because it is recognising the fact that most of the world's food is still produced by what they call small-holders, what we would call just traditional, normal sort of gardeners pursuing subsistence agriculture

GARRETT: The Pacific may not be the epicentre of global agriculture but governments have been willing to approve the leasing of large tracts of land.

In Papua New Guinea, 11 per cent of the country has been leased out under Special Agricultural and Business Leases and national development plans call for 20 per cent of the land to be under agriculture by 2030.

In Vanuatu, much of the hinterland of the main island of Efate has been leased to overseas cattle interests.

Kirk Huffman says land alienation is a threat to local people.

HUFFMAN: The thing is nowadays, unfortunately you know, one has threats to traditional land rights, from overseas, in these sort of land grab situations and you have also, unfortunately, sometimes got threats from your own government. This is the thing where these big organisation try and smarm their way into a government's pocket and get the government to try and do things on their behalf. I am really concerned about it.

GARRETT: Kirk Huffman says traditional landownership in the Pacific has been the key factor in feeding the growing populations.

The value of subsistence agriculture, he says, is often overlooked.

HUFFMAN: My fear is that if you rely too much on the private sector, ..the private sector just basically looks upon land as a commodity. land, particularly in the western Pacific, is not a commodity. It is a lot more than that. It has spiritual aspects and other aspects that economists don't know anything about, and, basically don't care anything about. They always push this thing of trying to turn land into a commodity that can be bought and sold like peanuts. They will say it will create jobs but land has always been the biggest employer, in inverted commas, in Melanesia, and it still is. the fact that the land doesn't necessarily pay you shillings at the end of every week doesn't necessarily really make any difference because the thing is that it gives you food. It sustains your extended family, it sustains your lineage, it sustains your clan and its been doing it for for thousands of years and, hopefully, it will continue to do it. And the traditional agricultural systems are highly sophisticated. I mean if you really want to learn, if some of these outside, overseas agricultural experts, in inverted commas, really wanted to learn about the depths of knowledge involved in traditional agriculture, they can go out to villages in, for example, Vanuatu or the Solomons, and they can learn more from 10 year old children than they can from Professors back overseas, about traditional agriculture.