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Reflections on developing a responsible investment approach to agricultural land



A recent discussion forum organised by the EIRIS Foundation in association with Oxfam brought NGOs and investors together to explore what a responsible approach to investments in agricultural land might look like. Discussion focussed on gaps in current practice and opportunities to address these.

The forum highlighted that land acquisition in emerging markets is a big issue and, as one participant suggested, one that’s likely to only get bigger. Oxfam’s recent report Our Land, Our Lives states that in poor countries, foreign investors bought up an area of land the size of London every six days between 2000 and 2010. Access to land is at the heart of developing global trends, including global population increases, changing habits in consumption and the impacts of climate change.

For NGOs campaigning about land investment, the issue is fundamentally about the effect on people and the environment on the ground – the violation of human rights, the displacement of people, their access to food and livelihood, and the impact of agricultural land deals on biodiversity and water resources, for example. There are a number of detailed NGO reports on the issue.

An interesting revelation of the forum is that investors may not realise their exposure to land-related risks. Potential exposure is various and complex. Investors can be exposed through: direct investments in land; or indirectly through funds (or funds of funds) that may invest in land; or indirectly through investment in companies or other investment vehicles with an investment in land (e.g., listed companies in various sectors such as food, retail, financial services or extractives; or private equity); or even through investment in bonds in land.

For responsible investors looking to invest in land, the forum suggested that there are currently a number of challenges. Here are a few:

  • There are a proliferation of principles and standards relating to land investments (e.g. UN Committee on World Food Security Voluntary Guidelines on The Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security; the Principles for Responsible Investment in Farmland; and the IFC Performance Standards, to name but a few). Where does the responsible investor begin? Participants at the forum asked how the standards are working together. Some respondents felt that existing standards have engaged with only investors or only NGOs, rather than both.  It was suggested that there remains a need for investors to have a set of succinct and practical guidelines.
  • Despite the existing standards, investors still face the challenge of implementation of standards on the ground.
  • There also appears to be a lack of agreement on what is ‘good practice’.

Equally, those campaigning for better investment in land face their own challenges. For example, the forum suggested that finding the right tone for dialogue with investors can be difficult. NGOs need to encourage responsible investors to invest in land and to do so in a manner that has a positive, sustainable and long-term effect on the ground.

Participants discussed ideas for where dialogue heads next. Suggested opportunities for further development included, amongst others:

  • Greater engagement between local communities, NGOs and responsible investors about the implementation and development or strengthening of existing principles/standards.  Both groups could mutually input into discussion around some of the existing and emerging standards.
  • More capacity-building to create greater awareness and knowledge of the issue. This might include greater information for governments and investors about potential positive outcomes from responsible investment in land and agriculture, and the requirements necessary to realise benefits for local communities and investors.
  • Best practice templates for consultants could help. This could help consultants respond to investor questions about implementation on the ground and ask the right questions of funds or companies.
  • Wisdom could also be gained from other sectors (e.g., extractives) on due diligence questions around land investments.

The forum voiced ideas for where the gaps are currently and where there may be opportunities. The forum is a stepping stone towards continued conversations. For those who missed the forum, EIRIS will be running a webinar on 14 December, Investing in Farmland: Reflections on Developing a Responsible Investment Approach. For more information and to register click here. Investors and NGOs welcome.

Virginia Jennings is communications & events coordinator at EIRIS. This blog originally appeared on the EIRIS website.

Further reading:

Agricultural responsible investment principles set for consultation

Calls for sustainable investment to prevent unmanageable demand for food

Global food system crisis

Sustainability at the heart of food and agriculture

Cool Farm Institute speak out on agricultural development


How to Build An Eco-Friendly Home Pool



eco-friendly pool for home owners
Licensed Image from Shutterstock - By alexandre zveiger

Swimming pools are undoubtedly one of the most luxurious features that any home can have. But environmentally-conscious homeowners who are interested in having a pool installed may feel that the potential issues surrounding wasted water, chemical use and energy utilized in heating the water makes having a home swimming pool difficult to justify.

But there is good news, because modern technologies are helping to make pools far less environmentally harmful than ever before. If you are interested in having a pool built but you want to make sure that it is as eco-friendly as possible, you can follow the advice below. From natural pools to solar panel heating systems, there are many steps that you can take.

Choose a natural pool to go chemical free

For those homeowners interested in an eco-friendly pool, the first thing to consider is a natural pool. Natural swimming pools utilise reed bed technology or moss-filtration to naturally filter out dirt from the water. These can be combined with eco-pumps to allow you to have a pool that is completely free from chemicals.

Not only are traditional pool chemicals potentially harmful to the skin, they also mean that you can contaminate the area around the pool if chemical-filled water leaks or is splashed around. This can be bad for your garden and the environment general.

It will be necessary to work with an expert pool builder to ensure that you have the expertise to get your natural pool installed properly. But the results with definitely be worth the effort and planning that you have to put in.

Avoid concrete if possible

The vast majority of home pools are built using concrete but this is far from ideal in terms of an eco-friendly pool for a large number of reasons. Concrete pools are typically built and then lined to stop keep out any bacteria. This is theoretically fine, except that concrete is porous and the lining can be liable to erode or break which can allow bacteria to enter the pool.

It is much better to use a non-porous material such as fibreglass or carbon ceramic composite for your pool. Typically, these swimming pools are supplied in a one-piece shell rather than having to be built from scratch, ensuring a bacteria-free environment. These non-porous materials make it impossible for the water to become contaminated through bacteria seeping into the pool by osmosis.

The further problem that can arise from having a concrete pool is that once this bacteria begins to get into the pool it can be more difficult for a natural filtration system to be effective. This can lead to you having to resort to using chemicals to get the pool clean.

Add solar panels

It is surprising how many will go to extreme lengths to ensure that their pool is as eco-friendly as possible in terms of building and maintaining it but then fall down on something extremely obvious. No matter what steps you take with the rest of your pool, it won’t really be worth the hassle if you are going to be conventionally heating your pool up, using serious amounts of energy to do so.

Thankfully there are plenty of steps you can take to ensure that your pool is heated to a pleasant temperature while causing minimal damage to the environment. Firstly, gathering energy using solar panels has become a very popular way to reduce consumption of electricity as well as decreasing utility bills. Many businesses offer solar panels specifically for swimming pools.

Additionally, installing an energy efficient heat pump or boiler to work in conjunction with your solar panels can be hugely beneficial.

Cover it!

Finally, it is worth remembering that there are many benefits to investing in a pool cover. When you cover your pool you increase its heat retention which stops you from having to power a pump or boiler to keep it warm. This works in conjunction with the solar panels and eco-friendly heating system that you have already had installed.

Additionally, you cover helps to keep out dirt and other detritus that can enter the pool, bringing in bacteria. Anything that you can do to keep bacteria out will be helpful in terms of keeping it clean.

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4 Ways To Get a Green House in 2018




green house and homes
Featured Image From Shutterstock - By

Demand for green houses is surging. In 2020, almost 20% of all homes on the market will be green.

If you would like to buy a green home, this is a great time to look into it. Prices are still pretty low and there are a lot more financing options available than there were right after the recession.

If you’re thinking about buying a house, now could be a very good time to make the move! A number of factors in the housing market right now mean that you might be able to afford your dream home. Although in many parts of the country house prices are still rising, if you do your research and plan wisely, there are lots of good schemes to help you get your foot on the property ladder, or trade up to the house you’ve always wanted.

Interest Rates and Stamp Duty

Although the Bank of England raised interest rates by 0.25% recently, they remain very low, which is good news if you’re thinking of taking out a mortgage. However, rates may not stay low and it’s predicted that there’ll be a further rate rise during 2018, so don’t wait too long. Another factor that’s going to help first time buyers in particular is the Chancellor’s decision to abolish stamp duty for first timers purchasing properties for under £300,000.

Different options

For many people looking to buy a green home, raising a deposit of between 5% and 20% may not be a realistic option, in which case there are a growing number of schemes to help. Increasingly popular are shared ownership schemes, through which the buyer pays a percentage of the full value of the property (typically between 25% and 75%) and the local council or a housing association pays the rest, and takes part ownership. This is suitable for buyers who may struggle to meet the up-front costs of buying outright. There will often be a service charge or management fees to pay in addition to the mortgage. The Government’s Help To Buy scheme is a good place to start looking if you’re interested in this option. This scheme is now available to people looking to buy green homes too.

ISA Options

If you’re still saving for a deposit, another scheme is the Help to Buy ISA. You can get a 25% boost to your savings on amounts up to £200 per month with this scheme. It’s only open to first time buyers and you can claim a maximum of £3000.

Other costs

Green home buyers are going to run into a number of other ancillary costs, most of which are common to other homebuyers.

When calculating how much you can afford, it’s vitally important to remember that buying a house comes with a whole host of other costs. Depending on the cost of the property that you’re buying, you may have to pay stamp duty of anywhere between 1% and 5%. There’ll be estate agents fee if you’re also selling a property, although there are a wide range of online estate agents operating such as Purple Bricks or Right Move that have lower fees than traditional high street companies. Conveyancing costs to a solicitor can add another £1000-£3000 and you may need to take out life insurance and hire a moving firm.

There are other initial costs such as, fixing parts of the home that aren’t upto your taste. Getting new furniture to fill up all the new-found space in your new home. If you are moving away from the city, you need to consider the cost of transportation as well, as it can take up quite a lot over time. Take your time, do your homework and shop around and soon you could be getting the keys to your perfect home.

I hope this article was useful for you to learn more about the basics that you need to be aware of before you start the process of buying your first home. If you have any doubts with regards to this, let us know through the comments and we will be glad to help you out. If you have any suggestions regarding how we can improve the article, let us know them through the comments as well for us to improve.

Do you have any other reservations against buying your first home? Do you see your house as an asset or a liability? Do you think it is important for everyone to get themselves a new home? Let us know through the comments.

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