GENEVA (AP) — A new study suggests a huge risk for global businesses: Local communities are disputing almost a third of the land involved in commercial land deals in 12 countries in Africa, Asia and South America.
The study for the U.S.-based Rights and Resources Initiative highlights a topic being studied by the World Bank and development organizations at an international conference beginning Thursday in Interlaken, Switzerland.
It used mapping technology to analyze over 153 million hectares — about the size of the Gulf of Mexico — licensed for everything from agriculture to forestry to mining in Argentina, Brazil, Cambodia, Cameroon, Chile, Colombia, Liberia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mozambique, Peru and the Philippines.
The study found at least 31 percent of the land overlapped with indigenous land claims, putting at risk about $5 billion worth of agriculture production, most of that in Argentina.
According to the study, 84 percent of Argentina's soybean concessions overlap with community-claimed areas, potentially tying up $4.6 billion in production.
In Cameroon, 83 percent of all timber concessions overlap with community forests, putting at risk nearly a half-percent of the nation's entire annual economic production, the study found. And in the Philippines, one mining project on disputed lands is projected to add 1 percent to the country's annual economic output.
The study recommends that international investors do their homework through local mapping and then examine issues on a national level such as laws, corruption and protests.
Jorge Munoz, a land tenure adviser who is one of five World Bank officials at the conference, said there's growing momentum in the international community to figure out how to solve these problems, and acknowledged that some criticism of the bank's own role in financing major development projects is legitimate.
But he added: "I wouldn't say we're part of the problem. We're a big part of the solution."
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