Sustainable investment in Africa starts with the law

May 23, 2016

The following article was shared by The R&B Timber Group from Forests News. Legal frameworks in Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania suggest ways that investments in landscapes can contribute to sustainable development.

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Diamonds, gold, oil, natural gas, extensive forest and farm land: Africa has such abundant resources that it is little wonder that, each year, billions of dollars in investments flow into the continent from abroad.

Yet such investments tend to enrich mainly elites and outside investors, to the detriment of the poor and the environment-and so don't necessarily contribute to sustainable development.

And that may be because existing legal frameworks tend to favor the powerful and vested interests, a new study of laws governing land use in three African countries suggests.

"There are several factors at play in legal systems in these countries that thwart sustainable landscapes governance and investments," said one of the study's authors, Andrew Wardell, a senior manager at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

"These are barriers that reflect the realities that marginalize people, and perpetuate the trap and cycle of poverty, particularly among rural communities."

Wardell and his co-authors from the International Development Law Organization and faculties of law at the Universities of Zambia, Mozambique and Nairobi analyzed legal documents from Zambia, Mozambique andTanzania, neighboring countries whose similarities and differences allow for meaningful comparisons.

All three countries officially espouse principles of sustainability and have developed climate change strategies, environmental safeguards and governance mechanisms. Yet these laws do not result in land-use investments that contribute to sustainability or poverty alleviation, the study found.

"The law, in whatever form it takes, whether statutory or customary, provides a framework to negotiate the multiple uses by different actors in a landscape," he said.

"I think that's the best way to interpret law and understand why there are these discrepancies between the provisions of the law and what actually happens in practice."


One key finding was that laws tend to be skewed in favor of large-scale developments in sectors such as mining, agriculture and forestry. Therefore, the authors argue, incentives to support small- and medium-sized enterprises could help fight poverty.

One example they cite of how legal frameworks can support sustainable businesses is Tanzania's Kilimo Kwanza ("Agriculture First") program, a government initiative that provides smaller enterprises with access to financing and credit.  

If you wish to read more on this topic, follow this link.