This blog originally appeared on Land Portal.
By Mina Manuchehri
I think the engagement with Illovo is a good start. … [the Project] has provided a platform for Illovo to engage with [us], which is not only a benefit to Illovo, but to the community. It opens up dialogue. In the future…, we’d love for Illovo to come to (us) and ask us to get involved.
—CSO Land Champion
Historically, civil society organizations (CSOs) and the private sector haven’t had the greatest rapport even in the best of circumstances. By the nature of their activities, companies and CSOs working on land investments often meet at points of conflict over issues of land.
For the Commitment to Practice (C2P) Project to succeed, these two stakeholders needed to find common ground and bridge what had at times been an adversarial relationship, overcoming initial skepticism along the way to arrive at better outcomes for communities.
Both Illovo and CSO members were doubtful at first about the prospect of working in collaboration.
“Our default perception around CSOs … was rather from a skeptical point of view — be careful,” said an Illovo Land Champion.
Civil society representatives were similarly skeptical. “The first day going into the [C2P training] workshop, I had a purely negative attitude toward the private sector, and I wasn’t going there with an open mind,” reported a CSO Land Champion.
But through the course of the project, which entailed the company and local CSO partners participating in a series of trainings, workshops, and field assessments, both came to discover that they share an interest in promoting good land governance and responsible investments in land. While they approach land issues from different perspectives, both civil society and the private sector discovered the value in working together toward a common goal.
One CSO Land Champion summarized the way that Illovo and CSOs took different paths to arrive at the same destination: “We want farmers’ land rights respected. They want farmers to supply cane to them. For that to happen, they want farmers to have access to land. Their interest is for farmers to have secure land tenure.”
“Though they are making profits (and) we’re not making profits, there are things we have in common,” the CSO Land Champion concluded. “In that way we’re making agriculture work for smallholder farmers.”
Two important takeaways emerged from the partnership, according to both CSO representatives and Illovo staff.
One key outcome for communities was a more systemic approach to addressing land encroachment, rooted in better community engagement that included all stakeholders and an understanding of the range of drivers contributing to encroachment, such as land scarcity, population growth and unclear boundaries.
For Illovo, this commitment to be inclusive in its approach to community engagement helped to demonstrate goodwill in the places where it operates.
“Before we started implementing [C2P], there was little trust [of Illovo] among community members, because they would say if Illovo wants to do anything with this land, they will do it without consulting us,” one Illovo Land Champion said. “But now that perception has changed, and it’s a fact. If we want to do anything on our land, we will consult our neighbor.”
“Now the community is saying you are behaving like any other human would behave. That is building trust, which is important for us,” the Illovo Land Champion added.
As community perceptions of Illovo evolved, so too did civil society perceptions of the company begin to change.
“[Through C2P] I saw things in a different light, and I shifted from judging [Illovo] to trying to understand their perspective, and how the middle point in what I know and what they know can align to form a more holistic perspective on what is actually happening,” said one CSO Land Champion.
Illovo’s Land Champions expressed similar insights in working with their counterparts in civil society, with one describing the paradigm shift as “quite radical change [on] a personal level, a management and a business level.”
“For the first time, I was refreshed to be in a meeting where more than three CSOs are discussing the same objective with a private company,” the Illovo Land Champion said. “The change has made us more comfortable with each other.”
A key ingredient in building the necessary trust and mutual understanding between Illovo and CSO partners to the C2P project was the role of Landesa as a trusted, honest convener and facilitator. Landesa helped to bring together representatives from both stakeholder groups at different project meetings, trainings, and workshops to help establish open and honest dialogue among all participants. Landesa staff was also able to share its own experience working with both groups collaboratively to achieve more responsible investments in land.
Over the course of the project, Illovo and the local CSO partners took the lead at different phases, drawing from their unique experience and expertise. For example, CSOs – relying on their experience engaging and consulting with communities – took the lead in designing and carrying out consultations, surveys, and fieldwork to assess the company’s impacts on farmers and communities.
While the trust that has been built between Illovo and CSOs through the C2P project is remarkable, that trust must be nurtured over time. It became clear during the Project close-out workshop that both groups need to consider ways to maintain open dialogue and understanding to help the initial success of the C2P Project continue to flourish, while acknowledging that disagreements may still occur.
“It is normal that where two people are together, misunderstandings will arise, conflicts will arise. But we need to find a positive perspective to resolve all the cases in a win-win perspective,” said one CSO Land Champion.
With that caveat aside, both Illovo and CSO representatives alike expressed optimism that the lessons of the C2P Project could be applied to help other adversaries set aside differences and forge new partnerships that share a common goal.
“I’m hoping that [the C2P Project] will be a good model for civil society and the private sector to come together and say, “we can actually work together and work for the benefit of the community as a whole,’” said one CSO Land Champion. “Because ultimately, that’s what we all want.”
CSO Land Champions under the C2P Project included LandNet (Malawi), Núcleo Académico para o Desenvolvimento das Comunidades (NADEC) (Mozambique), and Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) (Tanzania).