Developing the Community’s Message and Setting Demands

It is important to hold meetings with the community to develop its message. If you have already conducted an impact assessment, this will be much easier to do, because you will have a good understanding of the project’s impacts and how people want it remedied. The recommendations of the impact assessment report should reflect the community’s messages.

To develop the advocacy message, you will need to discuss the following at community meetings:

  • The latest situation in the community, including the various impacts of the project.
  • What the community wants to remedy the problems or to prevent harms. This could also include changing the design of the project so that the community can receive benefits (see below).
  • The investment chain analysis and the key pressure points in order to decide which actors you will communicate the message to.


The community’s message and demands should incorporate all of the different interests within the community. They should also be realistic. There is no point in sending a list of demands that will be impossible to achieve. It is important to manage the expectations of the community by explaining that they should think about what they want and what their rights are, as well as what they think could be a practical outcome.

Box 13: Case Study

Liberian Community Challenges Encroachment of Land Concession Through Community Solidarity and Clear Demands

In the West African country of Liberia, one group of communities in Grand Bassa county has had success defending their customary land against encroachment by a British palm oil company.

Residents from the Jogbahn clan claim that none of the communities were consulted or gave their free, prior and informed consent for the company’s palm oil concession to expand onto their lands.

Despite reported intimidation, threats and violence against members of the clan, the community remained determined and, together with national and international organizations, secured a meeting with the Liberian president. After the meeting, the president committed to ensuring the rights of the community to their territory, specifying that the company could not expand onto the lands of the Joghban clan without their permission.

In an interview with Real World Radio, Silas Siakor, campaigner at the Sustainable Development Institute, an organization that has provided support to these communities, said that one of the key elements in the successful outcome was unity. “Even though the company made a sustained effort to try to bring in division within the community, they have stood together,” he said. “The community has been extremely united. As a result of that, the resistance has been really difficult to break.”

As a second key element, Silas highlighted the clarity of the community’s demands. They insisted that the company stop the land survey in Jogbahn clan; not clear any more of their customary land; and not expand their oil palm plantation any further onto their customary land.

Friends of the Earth International created a video about this community.


“Small community in Liberia stands strong against land grabbing,” Radio Mundo Real, May 2014:

‘Liberian communities overturn Equatorial Palm Oil land grab,’ Friends of the Earth International and Sustainable Development Institute, May 2014:

‘UK’s Equatorial Palm Oil accused of human rights abuses in Liberia,’ Global Witness, 19 December 2013:

The community’s message and demands may be specific or general. For example, the community may state that it wants the project to be stopped, or that it wants land to be returned. In other situations, the message may be that the company must suspend the project activities and enter into negotiations with the community to reach an agreement to remedy negative impacts and prevent future harms.

The community’s message and demands will be used in communications with the company managing the project and other advocacy targets along the investment chain, as well as in the media and other forms of advocacy.

While messages and demands can evolve over time, and the community may decide to make compromises on its demands in a negotiation, advocacy is more likely to be successful if the message is clear and consistent. It is therefore important to take the time to work with the community to develop clear advocacy goals that everyone agrees with — and a message that reflects these goals. It may take more than one meeting to develop the community’s message.

Important Point

In addition to demands about remedying or preventing harms, the community may also want to try to influence the way the project is designed, so that they can receive development benefits.

For instance, a large hydropower dam might be exporting electricity to a neighboring province or foreign country. In doing so, the project is not providing one of the primary benefits of the project to local communities, many of whom might lack access to electricity. In addition, the company operating the dam might employ migrant workers from outside the area, thus depriving local communities of jobs and training opportunities. In these cases, local communities do not receive any benefits from the project.

The community may want to try to change this situation so that the impacts of a project are beneficial and/or to ensure communities don’t lose control over their land. This may be a part of the community’s advocacy message. In the case of agriculture projects, there are operating models that don’t involve large plantations that employ workers. Some of these models are discussed in Box 14 below. In order to adopt one of these alternative approaches, the company will need to be convinced of the benefits of an inclusive business model that shares benefits with local communities. Relevant government agencies will also need be supportive.

Box 14: Case Study

Alternative models for agricultural investments: Options and risks

Land-based agricultural investments do not always have negative impacts on local communities – but this all depends on how investments are designed and implemented. Agricultural investment can take many different forms, including forms that involve sourcing from local farmers, rather than taking their land.

These models have the potential to be inclusive and beneficial. However, much depends on the specifics, as collaboration can be exploitative, such as unfair pricing in contract farming that can lead to high levels of indebtedness. These models need to be designed in consultation with local communities to be successful for both the company and communities. The risks and opportunities need to be assessed for each particular circumstance, and the community should first get advice from people with experience in using or researching these types of arrangements.

Two examples of alternative models are:

Contract farming: Under contract farming arrangements, local farmers grow and deliver agricultural produce to the company. Generally, the farmers and the company enter into a contract that specifies the type, quantity and quality of the produce that will be delivered by an agreed date. The company agrees to buy all of the produce, as long as it meets the quality standards, at a specified price. The company typically provides the farmers with upfront inputs, such as seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and technical guidance. The company might also provide local farmers with a loan to purchase any other inputs they need. The cost of all of the inputs and the loan that the company gives the farmer is deducted from the final purchase price. In some successful cases, farmers negotiate contracts and deal with the company through a farmer association or cooperative. In some cases, a company-owned plantation is supplemented by contract farming arrangements on nearby land owned by local communities.

Contract farming can be beneficial if the farmers are able to make a good profit by cultivating and delivering the produce on the agreed terms and selling it for more than the cost of all the inputs. However, there have also been disastrous experiences with contract farming, where farmers received low prices and ended up accumulating considerable debt and eventually losing their land. The more promising experiences involve effective farmer organizations and meaningful consultation and negotiation between the company and farmers.

The terms of the contact need to be carefully negotiated and drafted to ensure that the company cannot seize the farmers’ land if they are unable to deliver the agreed produce. Instead, the company and the local farmers should share the risk of a bad crop for reasons that are beyond the control of the farmer, such as a pest infestation or drought. It is generally also a good idea to keep sufficient land for gardens for household consumption and integrate traditional livelihood systems, to the extent possible. Communities should seek their own legal advice before entering into any contractual arrangements with companies.

Lease contracts: Where a community owns a large area of land, including under their customary tenure system, it may decide to lease a proportion of it to the company in exchange for ongoing rental payments and/or a profit share from the produce sold. This will usually only be possible where the land rights of the community are recognized under the law, so that the company is assured of the security of the lease.

Arrangements that are based only on a profit-sharing model can be risky for farmers. For example, if the company makes no profit (or conceals them) then they get the land for free. In capital-intensive investments, it may take a long time before the project becomes profitable. Some crops take time to mature. For example, rubber trees must grow for five years before they are ready to be tapped.

Community members should be aware that unless they structure the lease agreement otherwise, they may not be able to access and use the land for a very long time. Communities should also be careful to ensure that under the agreement payments increase over time for long-term lease arrangements. In some cases, the company can provide employment opportunities and other benefits, such as infrastructure development and skills training, to the local community, and it may be possible to include these in the contract.

Whatever model is chosen, local people must have a voice from the very beginning, and they must be in a position to make free and informed choices.


Making the Most of Agricultural Investment: A Survey of Business Models that Provide Opportunities for Smallholders,” IIED and FAO, 2010.

FAO Contract Farming Resource Center.