Unravelling the land tenure issue

They will involve governments, the private sector, poor farmers, indigenous groups, local authorities, academia and  independent experts and will be led by a secretariat based at FAO headquarters. “Secure access to land is seen as a key  condition to improving food security of some of the world’s poorest people,” said Paul Munro-Faure, the Chief of the Land  Tenure and Management Unit of FAO. “FAO is taking the lead in this exercise because secure land access is the best safety-net  for the poor, and because good governance of land is a necessary condition for secure land access and land tenure rights”.   

Laws ignored
Although most FAO member nations have rules to protect farmers and forest dwellers, as well as domestic and foreign  investors, from being thrown off their land or having their land seized arbitrarily, laws are often ignored or badly  enforced. “Competition for land and other natural resources is increasing due to population and economic growth, foreign  direct investment for large scale food production, demands for biofuels and urban and industrial expansion,” said Alexander  Müller, Assistant Director General of FAO’s Natural Resources Department. “A shrinking natural resource base increases  competition as land is abandoned because of degradation, climate change and violent conflicts,” he said. “Without responsible  governance, growing demands for land threatens to foster social exclusion as the rich and powerful are able to acquire land  and other natural resources at the expense of the poor and vulnerable.” Weak governance is a cause of many tenure-related  problems and hinders economic growth because of a reluctance to invest, from both large and small players. It also affects  the sustainable use of natural resources, causing environmental degradation and condemning people to a life of hunger and in  the worst scenarios can cause conflict and war,” he said.  

Women vulnerable
Women, the disabled, illiterate and elderly are particularly vulnerable to having the land they farm arbitrarily seized as  they often lack legal and social rights, or where those rights do exist are powerless to enforce them. The work done by FAO  and many other international partners has shown that there is a growing and widespread interest in an international  instrument to improve governance of tenure of land and other natural resources. The voluntary guidelines are intended to  provide practical guidance to states, civil society and the private sector on responsible governance of tenure. The  guidelines will provide a framework and a point of reference that will allow government authorities, the private sector,  civil society and citizens to judge whether their proposed actions and the actions of others constitute acceptable practices.  Germany, together with IFAD, Finland and GTZ are providing funding with UN agencies (UN-Habitat, UNDP), IPC, the  International Land Coalition, the International Federation of Surveyors and many others closely supporting and collaborating  with the initiative. The guidelines will also steer a path for governments trying to cope with the growing trend of  large-scale foreign investments for food and biofuels, as well as for investor countries with limited water and arable land. 

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