The first speaker was Justine Sylvester from Village Focus International, a CSO from Laos. Justine, who works closely with investors in Laos, explained that the global preoccupation with foreign agribusiness often fails to account for transboundary investments and smaller-scale and localised investments. This is problematic in regions where there has been a proliferation of smallholders planting cash crops, becoming commercialised and forming local level contracts with traders – of which the cumulative impacts are very significant.
Moving beyond the concept of domestic investments being only agribusinesses, Justine argued in favor of a paradigm shift to acknowledge that smallholders are agricultural investors in their own right. In this sense, she highlighted the huge potential for CSOs to work with domestic investors (and local governments) to operationalize global guidance and standards – putting into practice the VGGT, RAI Principles, FPIC, etc.
This perspective has opened the door to work with smaller companies, helping to integrate responsible principles into the institutional framework and working towards agreement contracts that are culturally appropriate. Concluding, Justine argued that civil society needs support to continue promoting responsible agricultural investment and engaging with domestic investors.