Agribusiness: Risks and Impacts in Conflict-Affected Areas

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What is the aim and scope of the paper?

Since the late 2000s, there has been a growing private (and public) interest in investing in agribusiness in emerging and developing countries. While such investments can be high on returns and at the same time foster economic development, investments in conflict and fragile contexts, in particular, pose risks for companies and affected stakeholders. There are, for example, recurrent reports of farmers being shot for not selling their land to local landowners who tried to seal plantation deals with international business.1 At the same time, there is also potential for development or even peacebuilding through agribusiness companies, like the ESCO Kivu SPRL company in the Democratic Republic of Congo that changed its business model in order to provide jobs and income in a conflict-affected context or the beekeeping business that aimed to integrate conflict-affected youth in Uganda. It is thus important for companies to understand the risks and impacts of their operations.

This report therefore seeks to (a) examine how companies in the agricultural sector might (unwillingly) contribute to violent conflict; (b) identify potential risks and impacts of their investments in conflict-affected environments; and (c) reflect on possible opportunities for positive impact.

The risks and impacts of companies are understood in this report as shown in Figure 1. An investment context can pose risks to a company. While a company’s own impacts on the context can range from negative to very positive, the negative impacts can cause more or aggravated risks to the investment. Hence, by minimising negative impacts on the context, a company may be able to avoid creating new risks or exacerbating existing risks to its own operations. And by maximising positive impacts, it creates a better risk profile of the existing context (based on International Alert’s guidance on conflictsensitive business practices).

However, the scope of this paper is limited. While there is much discussion on the environmental, social and economic implications of agribusiness on development in general and local communities in particular, this position paper focuses more on how companies engage more effectively in these challenging situations. The paper primarily seeks to add a ‘conflict lens’ to existing approaches in order to assess the social and environmental impacts. In this regard, the paper has many points of contact to human rights impacts, as it addresses many human rights violations that can be associated with violent conflicts.