Natural resource, agriculture, and infrastructure projects require access to land for development, construction and operations. The type of access needed varies from short-term use, to permanent long-term ownership, to arrangements in the middle. To gain short-term land access, projects typically use legal right-of-ways processes or negotiate access arrangements with landowners. Permanent land ownership might be a straightforward buy-sell transaction if the project is in an area with a well-developed land market. Often for large projects the use of land is more complex, especially if the project is located in an ecologically sensitive area or in communities who depend on the land for their livelihood. To gain long-term access, the project will need to negotiate lease or purchase agreements with landowners and/or the government. If communities will be impacted and resettlement is the mitigation option, the project will need to reach consent and detailed arrangements with landowners, families, communities and government.

Land access and resettlement of communities has become a major topic of policy discussion in recent years. Significant risks associated with land acquisition can result in major social conflicts if not managed well. This is especially true in developing countries and countries in transition, where land market institutions are weak, opportunities for economic gain and illegal action are widespread, and many poor people lack access to land. IFC has comprehensive guidelines for land acquisition and resettlement, along with some useful planning tools. Additional tools and publications are available from other sources to guide projects in better understanding the social, economic, environmental and cultural aspects of land acquisition. Best practice in resettlement and land acquisition is evolving and dynamic, and companies should start comprehensive planning early in the development cycle to build socially acceptable and equitable land access strategies.

For guidance and resources on land access on Indigenous Peoples’ land, please see the Indigenous Peoples’ topic section.