Food Security and Agri-Foreign Direct Investment in Weak States: Finding the Governance Gap to Avoid ‘Land Grab’


  • Christian Häberli,

  • Fiona Smith

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    • Respectively, Senior Research Fellow, National Centre of Competence in Research – Trade Regulation, World Trade Institute, Bern University (Switzerland), and Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Laws, UCL. We are grateful to Christine Kaufmann, Professor of International and Constitutional Law and Co-Chair of the Centre of Competence for Human Rights at the University of Zurich, for initial advice on our research project and for alerting us to the activities of the National Contact Points under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. We also thank Manleen Dugal, independent consultant on trade policy, for making suggestions for the public interest clause presented in the Annex. We would like to thank Joanne Scott and our anonymous reviewers for their comments. Any errors remain our own. This is a substantially revised version of our paper ‘Land Grab and Human Rights: Mapping Multi-level Governance of Food Security and FDI in Weak States’ e-published and submitted to the Society of International Economic Law (SIEL) Conference (Singapore, July 2012). Research for this article was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation under a grant to the National Centre of Competence in Research on Trade Regulation, based at the University of Bern's World Trade Institute (Switzerland).


Food security is important. A rising world population coupled with climate change creates growing pressure on global world food supplies. States alleviate this pressure domestically by attracting agri-foreign direct investment (agri-FDI). This is a high-risk strategy for weak states: the state may gain valuable foreign currency, technology and debt-free growth; but equally, investors may fail to deliver on their commitments and exploit weak domestic legal infrastructure to ‘grab’ large areas of prime agricultural land, leaving only marginal land for domestic production. A net loss to local food security and to the national economy results. This is problematic because the state must continue to guarantee its citizens' right to food and property. Agri-FDI needs close regulation to maximise its benefit. This article maps the multilevel system of governance covering agri-FDI. We show how this system creates asymmetric rights in favour of the investor to the detriment of the host state's food security and how these problems might be alleviated.