By Temesghen Debesai
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) plans to make all of its large-scale agricultural contracts public, in an effort to increase transparency over land deals and improve management of natural resources, officials and researchers said on Wednesday.
DRC will provide summaries of the deals including social, environmental and fiscal provisions, as well as tools for comparing contracts in an online database, which will be linked to global land database OpenLandContracts.org.
Africa's second largest country by geographical area is rich in land, minerals and other natural resources but conflict and corruption have kept many of its 81 million people in poverty, analysts say.
Investment in the country's fertile farmland could help boost development but large-scale land deals must take into account the land rights of local populations and subsistence farmers, campaigners say.
DRC aims to disclose an estimated 20 agricultural contracts by early 2017, according to the New York-based Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, which is behind OpenLandContracts.org.
The site has already published details relating to a few contracts covering hundreds of thousands of hectares in DRC.
Kaitlin Cordes, head of land and agriculture at Columbia's Center on Sustainable Investment, welcomed the Congolese government's move.
"Despite the strong consensus at this point on the importance of transparency, too few governments and investors have been willing to make their agricultural and forestry contracts publicly available," she said in a statement.
Launched a year ago, OpenLandContracts.org lists details of deals involving palm oil plantations, sugar cane, biofuels, soybeans, tea and other crops in 13 countries.
(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 and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)