By Kieran Guilbert
DAKAR, Feb 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Forced evictions of local communities from their lands by foreign companies fuel around two-thirds of land ownership disputes across Africa, often sparking strikes or violence which can prove costly to investors, activists said on Thursday.
Pushing people off their land drives more conflict over land rights on the continent than any other factor - such as damage to the environment and a lack of compensation - said the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) and consultancy TMP Systems.
Around seven in 10 disputes over land deals in Africa lead to protests which hinder or delay operations, and hit companies' profits compared to a global average of 56 percent, according to a report published by RRI and TMP Systems.
Such clashes are common across the continent between international investors buying large tracts of agricultural land, and local communities who have cultivated the earth for generations, but lack legal rights and fear displacement.
"These findings challenge the traditional perspective, from a business viewpoint, that everything has a price, and that conflicts can be resolved by paying communities off," RRI coordinator Andy White told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"Communities across the continent are saying foreign companies cannot pay them enough, the land is their home and that they don't want to give it up," he said on the sidelines of a conference on land rights held in Senegal's capital of Dakar.
Foreign companies are increasingly seeing these disputes as a major business risk, and respecting the rights of communities, aware that failing to do so may harm their profits, White said.
Yet progress is slow due to complex supply chains and partnerships with local companies who are disconnected from the shift in practice and have less reputational concerns, he added.
The research found that areas targeted by companies across Africa were more heavily populated than in other regions, thus causing greater displacement and social unrest for local people.
The average land-related dispute in Africa occurs near a country's national borders, far from central government, and in areas with poor access to state services, little or no previous development, and a history of social conflict, the report said.
"This suggests that tenure dispute is much more likely in areas with low legal accountability and economic development," said TMP Systems chief executive Lou Munden.
"Investors can be exposed to serious risk in these areas because local people will ensure their interests are heard."
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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