Global: Voluntary guidelines on land tenure endorsed by United Nations (FAO, Deutsche Welle)

    | May 21, 2012

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    After three years of discussion, in May, the United Nations Committee on World Food Security endorsed guidelines which promote secure land tenure and user rights for small-scale farmers and fishers. Known by the long title of The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, the guidelines are designed to increase transparency in land investment, and to strengthen the position of small-scale farmers.

    Babette Wehrmann is responsible for climate, energy use and rights at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. She says, “The key point is that all rights for people to use land and other resources should be recognized, and that these people have proof. And they cannot easily lose these rights overnight because someone else may have more money or more influence.”

    Land investors have targeted African countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Madagascar, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These countries often have weak land ownership laws, or welcome the investment. However, at least two have put measures in place to strengthen farmers’ rights. Madagascar and Ethiopia have begun issuing farmers with certificates to confirm land ownership. Michael Taylor, from the International Land Coalition, says, “While [the certificates] are not the same as a [legal ownership] title, they still ensure ownership of the land and only cost a fraction of the price.”

    The voluntary guidelines establish principles and internationally accepted standards for responsible practices. They allow government authorities, the private sector, civil society and citizens to judge whether any proposed actions are acceptable.

    FAO points out, however, that these voluntary guidelines are not legally binding. They do not replace existing national or international laws, but are, just as their name suggests, simply guidelines. Protecting small-scale farmers faced with losing their land to large investors now depends on the extent to which each country views the voluntary guidelines as binding.

    Access the guidelines via:

    Further reading:

    -“Global land deal guidelines could pave way to world without hunger” by Jose Graciano da Silva, Director General of the FAO:

    -“1.3 billion people rely on forest to survive” New Scientist