Paving the road for responsible agri business: a visit to the Philippines on responsible land governance

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Paving the road for responsible agri business: a visit to the Philippines on responsible land governance


29 August 2017

There is a lot to be learned from one of the world’s largest sugar producers when it comes to responsible agri-business. When a study group from the Mekong Region and China made their way to Negros Occidental, the sugar capital of the Philippines, on a learning visit in July, they left with a better understanding of the risks associated with land investments.

The group was made up of representatives of six private companies from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and China, the Lao Ministry of Planning and Investment, Oxfam country offices and the Mekong Region Land Governance (MRLG) Project. This event, which comes in the middle of the second-phase implementation of the MRLG-supported Innovation Fund (IF) Project of Oxfam Belgium, Agri-business Engagement for Responsible Land Governance in Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar and Viet Nam (CLMV), builds on dialogues carried out with a number of selected companies engaged in land-related investments across the Mekong region.

The intention is to provide a platform for companies, MRLG and Oxfam to learn from each other, to share experiences and to have first-hand exposure to situations with companies outside of the CLMV to learn from. The participants were able to observe the role of civil society and the government in the resolution process where there are issues between companies and local communities. In observing resolved cases or those in the process of resolution, there was a particular focus on
(i) understanding and managing the risks related to land-intensive operations, (ii) engaging successfully with communities on land issues, and (ii) the importance of developing and implementing policies and practices on land.

While the development context and land reform in the Philippines differs from the Mekong Region and China, the Philippines experience gave participants a broad range of lessons to draw from — starting with the continuing struggle of the community due to loopholes in land reform law, and the political connections of some powerful individuals influencing the implementation of good business practices.

Figure 1: This is the prevailing landscape in the Negros Occidental which is consider as the “sugar capital of the Philippines”. In 2005, the Philippines is the ninth largest sugar producer in the world and second largest sugar producer among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, after Thailand, according to Food and Agriculture Organization. The sugar industry in the Philippines pre-dates pre-Spanish colonization. (Proto credit: Oxfam-Belgium)

Figure 2: One of the communities that the group visited in Negros Occidental. This community is a land reform beneficiary but still struggling to possess and enjoy the land awarded to them. With the support of the local NGOs, they are fighting the influential landed elite for compensation, including the return of their land. (Photo credit: Oxfam-Belgium

he interaction with local communities, coupled with discussions with government and support organisations about social enterprise, re-energised the participants to further promote responsible investment in the Mekong Region.

The companies also reaffirmed their commitment to the Oxfam IF project to practice responsible agri-business. In Viet Nam, a three-year action plan to improve policy and practices within Viet Nam Rubber Group (VRG) was outlined. In Cambodia and Lao PDR, specific activities were identified. Both countries have expressed the need to be trained in tools and principles for responsible investment. All companies also acknowledged the value of using the self-assessment scorecard on responsible investment. The scorecard will help the company track its progress towards becoming a responsible investor using specific performance indicators benchmarked on internationally accepted best practices.

Figure 3: 3-year Action Plan from Viet Nam. (Photo credit: MRLG)

The strong commitment to promote a responsible agribusiness investment was encapsulated in the reflection of Derek Smith of Luang Prabang company Saffron Coffee, who emphasised the need to go beyond “fairness” and strive to provide opportunities for smallholder farmers to improve their lives

Figure 4: Mr. Derek Smith, Manager, Saffron Coffee Company, Laos. (Photo credit: MRLG)