I first heard the words “meeting under the mango tree” as a euphemism for having a predictable, easy to access process for enabling community members to raise issues and concerns in a safe and familiar place. There is no fixed agenda and no one-size-fits-all for these exchanges. With one company we set up drop-in centres in each local village with a designated community officer in attendance everyday. Another made it known that a company person would be available “under the mango tree” for two hours every market day. I am hoping this blog will achieve something similar – the regular, free and open sharing of ideas and experiences. Time will tell how well it works out.
What are we talking about here?
Land access needs to be viewed in two parts. Land Access can be temporary and short-term and in the context of mineral exploration is associated with initial reconnaissance, surveying, test-pits and drilling. Camp facilities are usually considered temporary although their use may extend for many years. These activities can cause temporary loss of economic benefit from land use as a result of short-term restricted access for farming and damage to / loss of crops. Temporary land access should not result in physical displacement.
The second aspect is Land Acquisition and Resettlement. This is associated with accessing land required for building new (greenfields) or expanded (brownfield) operations. Large-scale land acquisition, involving large numbers of individuals, significant areas and resettlement is typically associated with greenfield projects, and is a complex and costly (typically running to $Ms) and lengthy (2-5 years) undertaking that must be managed using robust project management processes. The work is usually outsourced to resettlement specialists.
Why are good land access practices important?
There are three parts to the answer:
1. Good land access practices help to avoid conflict:
Competition for land is always an issue for companies and communities. Compensation for damage and the displacement and resettlement of communities is a challenging experience for all concerned often leading to conflict over the right to land and its use.
2. Good land access practices reduce the impact of land acquisition on local communities:
For community people the very idea of losing their land creates strong emotions. Add in the complex business process of land acquisition and resettlement and the experience can be very traumatic. Viewed from the perspective of sustainable development, minimising the impacts of land acquisition for project infrastructure is important because food insecurity associated with landlessness is a serious resettlement risk. This is not a good place to be if you are serious about leaving a positive legacy - the bigger the backward step, the more work (and expense) required to restore the pre-existing quality of life, let alone improving the livelihoods of people and communities impacted by your activities.
3. Good land access practices reduce the impact of land acquisition on your business:
For your company, the difference between doing well and doing badly will affect the success or failure of your business plan. Inadequate attention to the impacts of land access and acquisition has a high likelihood of leading to disaffected communities and civil society groups taking action. They might choose to do this by lobbying government and holding up permits and approvals or they may take direct action and stop construction and operations. On the other hand, if the payment of compensation for damage, the acquisition of land and the resettlement of the people affected by your activities is managed well it can result in positive results for both your company and local people, creating benefits such as better-quality housing and new livelihood opportunities.
I want to do the right thing but land access is all a bit overwhelming. Any ideas to get me started?
Land ownership and land use are typically governed by a web of common law and customs. Understanding the local context for land acquisition is essential to reduce business risk. You can do this by chasing down information on land tenure and ownership; how the land is used; pre-existing conflict over land and resources and local land tenure dispute resolution procedures. Determining who compensation will be paid to (household, family, individual, clan, community) and who the legitimate landowners are is an essential part of minimising future problems and conflicts.
This might sound difficult, but you are likely to find that one or more members of your site team will have family, school or previous employment connections to government agencies and community leaders and will be familiar with local customs and practices and are a good first source. If you haven’t got a team on the ground, you could reach out to other companies operating in-country for some insight or retain a local consultant with the relevant expertise.
What does good practice land acquisition look like?
Good practice in relation to land access and acquisition is to avoid physical and economic displacement wherever possible. Displacement should always be a last resort and to be defensible you will need to be able to demonstrate that the company has considered all practical design and management options. Where economic displacement due to land-use change is unavoidable it should be minimised. Unnecessarily denying access is contrary to good practice.
I'm starting some early exploration so what should I do?
An easy first step is to establish a few simple rules for accessing land for temporary use and ensure they apply to and are to be used by everyone on site – employees and contractors:
- notification - ensuring that landowners are aware of what you plan to do and give you permission to enter onto their land before you start work;
- compensation - it is crucial that everyone in the community understands your compensation payment procedures; how payments are calculated; who the recipients are; why these recipients were chosen; and where and when payments are made; and
- communication – making sure you communicate to the broader community what you are going to be doing in the area before you start work.
What are some of the common pitfalls I need to avoid?
Many companies make assumptions that are contrary to accepted international standards governing resettlement. This could leave your company open to human rights related claims and other costs. Common (and serious) misconceptions include:
- if land is state land, or has been cleared of people by the government prior to handover to the company, the company has no resettlement obligations;
- only people with legally recognized rights to land need to be compensated;
- cash compensation is usually adequate to cover resettlement impacts;
- if problems occur, additional compensation payments will usually resolve them;
- disclosure of information about how land and assets will be valued will lead to escalating demands from affected people;
- if the company complies with national laws, it has met international standards.
How can I avoid misunderstandings and claims of cheating?
It is crucial that everyone understands compensation payment procedures; how payments are calculated; who the recipients are; why these recipients were chosen; and where and when payments are made. The compensation process must be transparent to all affected parties, but the value of specific payments to individuals and households can remain confidential (if this is what people want).
How do I plan for permanent land acquisition?
One proven approach is to link all land acquisition and resettlement activities to your project schedule and ensure adequate resources are provided. Surveys; agreement making; payments and moving all take time and have the potential to become critical path activities that hold up construction activities.
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