As part of the launch of the Responsible Land-Based Investment Navigator 2.0, the Land Portal spoke with Nathaniah Jacobs, Senior Researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development, to hear more about the Advancing Land-based Investment Governance (ALIGN) project. The Navigator is positioned to be a valuable tool and resource for ALIGN stakeholders.
Often there’s not necessarily a problem with an investment taking place, it's just that investments could be done better. And if things were, if the governance frameworks around investments were considered or integrated more carefully, the benefits could be much larger for all stakeholders.
Land Portal: What is ALIGN?
Nathaniah Jacobs: ALIGN, as the acronym says, is a project to advance land based investment governance, and aims to improve the governance and practices surrounding large-scale land-based investment.
LP: Tell us about your partnership with Namati and the Columbia Center for Sustainable Investments and why they are good partners in the ALIGN project.
NJ: IIED, CCSI and Namati have all got a strong track record of working on issues surrounding large-scale land based investments. For purposes of ALIGN all three organisations are working together in partnership. Each organisation brings a strong set of skills which complement each other and allow the project to comprehensively tackle some of the common issues that surround these investments. From grass-roots community mobilisation and legal empowerment to action research, peer-to-peer learning, and stakeholder dialogues, the partnership allows us to take a multipronged, multi-level approach towards addressing what are often complex challenges.
LP: What are the issues and challenges underpinning the reasons behind the creation of the initiative?
NJ: Large-scale land-based investments are happening, but often without the type of long term sustainable development and growth that you would expect. So, very often, the issue is that investments come in, they take place, but they don't necessarily benefit local communities, or they're not implemented in accordance with national development goals. What happens then is the possibility of lost livelihoods, adverse environmental impacts, and an increased risk of conflict.
And often there’s not necessarily a problem with an investment taking place, it's just that investments could be done better. And if things were, if the governance frameworks around investments were considered or integrated more carefully, the benefits could be much larger for all stakeholders. However, in other circumstances whether an investment should take place, whether it will provide the promised benefits and outcomes does require a fundamental reassessment of investment type and how such an investment should be implemented - if at all.
LP: Where is the project focused geographically?
NJ: The project has a geographic focus of Sub Saharan Africa and the Indo Pacific region.The first country we're working in is Sierra Leone, and the other two are still to be determined. We chose these regions because they have seen successive waves of investment, and they are some of the regions that are grappling with the issues associated with large-scale land-based investments -- the tensions they create in both advancing sustainable development, but also balancing investment interests.
LP: Who are your main stakeholders? Are you working closely with the private sector?
NJ: The main stakeholders for ALIGN are communities, civil society and government. Having said that, obviously many investments come from the private sector, so they are a major stakeholder we would want to engage with. But the reason why we're not focusing specifically on them through this project is due to an understanding that to achieve the systemic change, or the change at scale that we need, we have to start targeting the governance frameworks and practices that regulate investments.
LP: What has been the reception in Sierra Leone, to start with, to the work that you're doing?
NJ: The project is just getting started, we launched in August 2020. We and our partners, particularly Namati, are quite well established in Sierra Leone, and we are making some great progress in terms of dialogue and engagement with the government and mobilising of civil society.
LP: As you take on the convener or facilitator role with governments, civil society, and the private sector, what challenges do you foresee and how are you preparing for them?
NJ: One of our biggest challenges at the moment are the various COVID related travel restrictions. Our ability to travel to meet people in person has been curtailed completely. So we're relying a lot on our partners in country. And obviously land and land investments can be quite a thorny issue -- there are a lot of interests involved -- so it requires careful navigation and considered decisions on where to start and which partners to engage. Obviously we're hoping, as we move towards post-pandemic recovery, that our opportunities to engage in person increase and we can begin to address these issues more head on. Investments will be a key issue for post-COVID economic recoveries in many countries. Right at this moment, however we are taking our time to make sure that we get the foundations right and are focusing on the shorter-term technical support components of the project.
LP: What do you hope to achieve in the next several years, and how will you know that you’ve achieved them?
NJ: We’re hoping that over the five-year project period, at least in the three focus countries, we will be able to see the systemic change the ALIGN project seeks to achieve. So, strengthened governance and practices surrounding land-based investments. For example strengthened policies and legal frameworks; improved inter-ministerial and institutional cooperation; a stronger voice for affected communities; and meaningful public participation and transparency, with active civil society engagement as a counterweight within the investment decision-making process.
Investments should benefit the country they're taking place in, they should benefit the communities affected by them, improving livelihoods and long-term opportunities, and they should advance long-term development goals.
LP: How do you see the Responsible Land-Based Investment Navigator helping the ALIGN project?
NJ: The Navigator provides a one stop shop -- whether it’s for government, private sector or grassroots community organizations and civil society -- to find curated resources that can assist them in navigating some of the questions and issues that tend to arise within the context of investment projects.
The Navigator provides a one stop shop -- whether it’s for government, private sector or grassroots community organizations and civil society -- to find curated resources that can assist them in navigating some of the questions and issues that tend to arise within the context of investment projects.