Interview [ID: 109]

Mathieu Boche and Aurélie Chevrillon on guiding agribusiness projects to implement FAO's VGGT

How are the FAO VGGT going to be implemented in practice? In 2012 the international community agreed on the Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests in the Context of National Food Security.

Since then several development agencies around the world started developing implementation guidelines. In this interview we talk with Mathieu Boche (MoFA-France) and Aurélie Chevrillon (AFD) about the French initiative to develop their 'Guide to due diligence of agribusiness projects that affect land and property rights'.

The French Cooperation stressed that the main objective of their guide is to 'raise awareness (on the VGGGT) among all the actors - the donors, but also the private sector and the communities - to make decisions for land deals'. Other implementation guidelines, for example by USAID and OECD, are seen as complementary. They are based on the same principles, but using different approaches. According to Mathieu, efforts to harmonise the different guidelines are ongoing under the New Alliance Initiative. The Global Donor Working Group on Land, facilitated by the Donor Platform, will present further details on such a harmonisation effort at the upcoming World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty.

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Aurélie Chevrillon and Mathieu Boche | AFD; MFA-France

Aurélie Chevrillon and Mathieu Boche. June 2015.

Aurélie Chevrillon and Mathieu Boche on guiding agribusiness projects to implement FAO's VGGT


Romy Sato (Secretariat): The “Guide to due diligence of agribusiness projects that affect land and property rights” was commissioned by you, the French Cooperation, to help your projects and partners implement the FAO Voluntary Guidelines known as VGGT and endorsed in 2012. By when your projects have to start applying this guide and what do you see as the biggest challenge for your projects and partners in having to follow this guide now?

Aurélie Chevrillon: Thank you for your question. It brings us back to why the French Development Agency has made it, and why now. I think there are two dynamics that drove us to making this guide along with the French Committee and the French Development Agency. First of all, it is true that our institution progressively recognised that the land issues are in our entire rural and agricultural portfolio. It means it’s a question of development effectiveness, if we take the community point of view. It is also a guarantee of the safety of investments and secure investments for the private investor that we support from time to time. The second dynamic, I believe [in] parallel, there was a strong political commitment to translate the voluntary guidelines into fact. Therefore France, along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have decided to require that its own public operators respect the voluntary guidelines, and to make the same demand of French companies involved in projects that affect land holdings.

Mathieu Boche: I think I will add something on the challenges we face when we are talking [about using] the guide. The first one is to overcome the view that land issues are too political, too sensitive, too complicated and too complex to analyse and to include in our processes of due diligence analyses done by the French Development Agency. This is really important, as we already said, to raise awareness among our project officers, but also among our project offices—awareness about the fact that it is possible to work on these issues, even if they are complex. Maybe the second biggest challenge is [involving] our domestic private partners and explaining to them that it is in their own interests to use these guidelines. It can increase, maybe, the costs at the beginning of the project to use these guidelines, to make these analyses—these whole, long land relevance analysis—but in the long term it will be in their own interests to really apply these principles.

Romy Sato (Secretariat): The guide places a strong focus on the development of contracts, proposing a whole list of issues to check whether these issues are reflected in the contracts. But what about investments that are already running? How can donors ensure that these investments will generate equitable benefits for all, even when contracts have already been signed?

Aurélie Chevrillon: Yes, it is true that the guide places real focus on contracts, as they say, at the development stage. We do believe that the contract outlines the terms of the investments. Any analysis of the project must include scrutiny of the terms of the contract and the processes that have established them.

But a good contract will not guarantee that a project will be properly implemented or all commitments honoured. A bad contract on the other [hand] will not create the conditions for desirable projects. I will also add that we have used this guide, applying it to the project of the French Development Agency, recently, and in the case of this [unclear] private investment in Ghana that we support, a very new element was that the due diligence conducted according to the guide concerned not only the acquisition but also the historical land of the firm. In that case, we have also analysed the quality of the conservation process and the transparency of the shared evaluation of the land that was acquired before the project that was scrutinised. I think it is true that donors are always consulted when the contract is in process, so it is very rare that we are at the beginning of the deal, but I do believe that things can be done in an ongoing process and even after.

Mathieu Boche: It is true that most of our business projects are develop [for] the long term, and most of the time activities can emerge during the lifespan of the project. So it is also an important part of this guide, as Aurélie already said, to help stakeholders ask the right questions at the right time. And maybe to raise awareness among all the actors—the donors, but also the private sector and the communities—to make [best] decisions for land deals.

Romy Sato (Secretariat): Mathieu, USAID is also preparing guidelines to help companies to adhere to the VGGT, and there is also the OECD policy framework for investment in agriculture. What happens in the case of multi-donor funding for the same projects? Which guide will prevail? Are you not perhaps creating different standards in complying with the VGGT?

Mathieu Boche: You are right, there are different guidelines that have been developed or are in the process of being developed, and they used sometimes different approaches. The USAID guidelines are more oriented toward the private sector. The OECD policy framework uses a value-chain approach, while we are looking at land-based agricultural projects.

On top of that, you know we are always in the process of harmonising the different guidelines that have been developed by different donors. So it is also something we are in the process of thinking.

Romy Sato (Secretariat): Can you talk a little bit more about these processes of harmonising these guidelines? I think this is something new and that would be very interesting for the donor platform audience to learn more about it.

Mathieu Boche: Actually, it started within the framework of the new Alliance for Food Security. We started the discussion among donors because we realised that almost all of us were developing operational guidelines to analyse land-based agricultural projects or land-based agricultural investments. But we were not sure about how to coordinate our actions. So we decided to develop a harmonised guideline for donors to apply for new Alliance projects.

Now, we will have a workshop next week to develop an analytical grid based on different principles that we are going to provide to the Alliance.

Aurélie Chevrillon: I just wanted to add something. For a donor, I would say something that is very important is that we place land issues within development issues. I believe the work we have conducted for a year and a half now contains five important recommendations that now we are trying to share with our donors while we are discussing different kinds of projects.

First of all, the fact that there is a national discussion is not enough if we want equity. The second thing is also that we have to consider alternatives to large-scale acquisitions within the development policies that we support. There is also the idea that transparency within the process and within the contracts is a big key to guaranteeing equity and also security of the process that will be going on afterwards. The last thought that has to be shared among donors is the idea, which is in the guide, that asymmetry between the different actors at stake—the state, the private investor, the territorial collectivities, and also the communities—must be mitigated whenever we can.

For us and in the institutions we can have with the donors, we try to say that it is time for action, and we insist on the fact that we need to promote within each country the creation of land expert networks, [such as the] French Committee on [unclear] Development. Also, that it is very important to place investments in the long-term perspective that link land issues to development issues, agricultural issues and territorial issues. This is the way that we want this guide to continue its fight, I would say.

Romy Sato (Secretariat): Besides the development of these guidelines, what actions—specifically requiring donor coordination—would be important to insure agricultural investments in host countries?

Mathieu Boche: For us, for the French cooperation, [ensuring] responsible investments raises two different questions. First of all, the inclusiveness of these agricultural investments—that is exactly what the guide is all about. The second question is land development frameworks and policies that provide secure loans for local populations. You can ask the private sector to apply difference guidance and respect different principles, but if they respect these principles in a land development framework that does not work, it is not going to resolve the problem. We have to think about and answer these two questions at the same time.

One particular aspect on which donor coordination can improve is maybe to think about the problem more globally. This can be done on multi-stakeholder governance framework platforms. And as already said, the development of land expert networks in different countries is also a key, key aspect of the local [unclear] and to improving land governance in different countries.

Aurélie Chevrillon: The last thing, maybe, I would say is that we hope there will be an increase in the donor community’s support to the new national land policies also. I believe that from the French Development Agency side, we do not want any more to go alone in our support for national land policies, and so it is also a place for strong coordination between donors. It is very important to move in a common way when it comes to support for policy.


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