Land Contracts and Transparency in Land-Based Investment


Large-scale investments in agriculture and forestry hold diverse and far-reaching implications. Despite their significance, these investments are often negotiated and approved behind closed doors, and governed by contracts that are difficult to access and understand. This status quo is particularly concerning in countries where land contracts play a pivotal role in allocating risks and determining the benefits of land-based investment, including for those affected who lack a voice in the negotiation process.

An emerging consensus is increasingly evident on the need for greater transparency in land-based investment, particularly in the contracting process. To catalyze greater transparency in practice, contribute to the development of a coherent narrative on the roles of stakeholders, and ensure that greater transparency leads to positive outcomes on the ground, CCSI is developing tools, conducting research, and facilitating dialogue.


  • serves as the first global online repository of publicly available contracts for large-scale land, agriculture, and forestry projects. It includes the full text of contracts; plain language summaries of each contract’s key social, environmental, human rights, fiscal, and operational terms; and tools for searching and comparing contracts. Launched in 2015 with support from the UK Department for International Development, the repository is continually updated with new contracts, summaries, and additional resources.
  • is also available as a resource for governments interested in disclosing contracts through their own country-specific sites. In October 2016, the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo announced that it would disclose its agricultural contracts on a platform developed in partnership with CCSI.

Research and writing

  • CCSI is undertaking research to explore whether and how international law requires disclosure of investor-state land contracts and the implementation of transparent contracting processes. This research focuses in particular on international human rights law, and the extent to which guidelines for responsible large-scale land-based investments, which encourage greater transparency, accurately reflect existing host and home state obligations.
  • CCSI is exploring how FPIC and consultation processes can be integrated into investor-state contract negotiations, taking into account the practicalities of contract negotiations, to better safeguard the land rights and human rights of members of project-affected communities.
  • In March 2016, CCSI and the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) published Transparency in Land-Based Investment: Key Questions and Next Steps, a briefing note that examines why greater transparency is needed, what it entails, and how various stakeholders can work towards achieving it.
  • Also in March 2016, CCSI published Recommending Transparency in Land-Based Investment: A Summary of Relevant Guidelines and Principles. This short guide consolidates recommendations regarding transparency in land-based investment featured in guidelines and principles published by international organizations, government agencies, and multilateral or multi-stakeholder groups. The guide assists stakeholders in addressing the issue of transparency and provides an informed starting point for further analysis.
  • CCSI researchers have also written multiple pieces addressing contract disclosure or transparency issues tied to land-based investment, including “Here’s the Deal (RICS Land Journal), “Opening Up Land Deals and Land Data … With Caution” (Land Portal), “Uncloaking the Secrecy Behind Large-Scale Land Deals (State of the Planet), and a submission to the US Securities and Exchange Commission on requiring reporting on land tenure risks, including those arising from land acquisitions.
  • CCSI contributed analysis of various concessions contracts to WRI’s Working Paper on Logging, Mining, and Agricultural Concessions Data Transparency: A Survey of 14 Forested Countries.


  • In December 2016, CCSI hosted an event at the Open Government Partnership Summit on improving openness and transparency in land-based investments. The event was co-hosted by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, the Global Donor Working Group on Land, OCP, and the World Resources Institute.
  • In October 2015, CCSI, OCP, and the World Bank hosted a multi-stakeholder Roundtable on Land Contract Transparency. The roundtable, which was held at Columbia Law School, provided an opportunity to examine the challenges and benefits of advancing land contract transparency, and to assess how participants can continue to strengthen efforts in this area.

CCSI’s work on transparency in land-based investment builds on and is informed by our work on contract transparency in natural resource investments.