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Development Law

The Legal Office provides legal advisory services to governments on land, water, fisheries, plants, animals, food, forestry, wildlife and national parks and environment and biodiversity, as well as general agricultural issues (institutions, trade, economic reform). Current legal advisory projects include 70 countries from every region of the world.

Working with the technical services of FAO, it helps governments prepare laws, regulations, agreements and other legal texts, advises on institutional structures and compliance with international law. An element of most advisory projects is capacity building through participatory training of national officials and consultants.


Land Law

NEW: The right to land - rights of men and women: experiences with paralegals in Mozambique is a video clip that presents an overview of the gender issues in Mozambique and the major challenges faced by rural women when it comes to access to land and natural resources.

In its land-related projects, the Development Law Service typically works as part of a multi-disciplinary team with other land-related technical units in FAO, particularly those concerned with land tenure and settlement, land use, soil conservation, cadastre and remote sensing.

Legal work in other fields (for example, forestry and wildlife law) also frequently has land law implications, given the obvious linkages between land and other resources. Indeed, a guiding principle of the Service's work is that effective land law reform needs to be based on an integrated vision of natural resource management, requiring well-harmonized sectoral legislation and a careful balancing of national interests, environmental protection, food security and individual rights.

While the needs and nature of assistance varies greatly from country to country, FAO's land law work in recent years has touched upon the following themes:

Land Rights and Land Markets
Many countries in transition are engaged in the process of recognizing stronger individual rights to land, and of creating the basic legal and administrative framework necessary for well-functioning land markets. The FAO has assisted in various aspects of this process in Lithuania, Mongolia, Georgia and elsewhere. Work soon to be underway in Slovenia will focus on the legal dimensions of a number of inter-related land market issues, such as taxation, valuation, registration, cadastre and land information systems.

Community-Based Tenure Systems
Despite the trends in much of the world, security of tenure cannot automatically be equated with the introduction of individualized tenure systems and formal land markets. In large parts of Africa and Asia, customary rules continue to govern the ownership and utilisation of land. There is increasing recognition of the adaptability of many customary systems and the insecurity created by heedlessly replacing such systems where they remain viable. In such contexts, the challenge for legal reformers is to design laws that can provide a workable framework for the co-existence of plural land tenure systems, and to allow room for their adaptation to changing circumstances and societal norms. This approach has characterized the FAO's land law work in many countries, such as Niger, Guinea, Burundi, Tanzania, Philippines, Laos, etc., as well as recent work in Mozambique, where FAO is assisting in the comprehensive revision of that country's land laws. Effective reform in this area requires the participation of the customary land users in all stages of the process, and careful consideration of their aspirations, values and practices.

Land Information and Administration
Well-functioning land markets and land administration systems require efficient, transparent and accessible systems for recording rights in land and for collecting and managing other types of land information. Such systems need to be culturally sensitive, drawing upon local institutions and norms where feasible. Furthermore, they should be related to technical standards which are economically realistic in a given context. In collaboration with other FAO technical divisions, the Development Law Service recently helped Eritrea to design a legal framework for land registration that meets these criteria. Several projects over the last decade in Guyana have also focussed on a number of these issues. Furthermore, the application of new technologies to the collecting, sharing and disseminating of spatial information, all present new and relatively unfamiliar challenges to existing legal regimes. Areas such as intellectual property rights, evidence, inter-agency administrative law, etc., are all likely to be implicated. These areas will be a major focus of the FAO's work in Slovenia.

Land Use and Soil Conservation
The Development Law Service has collaborated with other technical divisions on an increasing number of projects concerning land use planning and soil conservation. A particular focus (in recent work in Tanzania and in upcoming work in Swaziland) involves identifying and reducing legal constraints to stakeholder participation in the land use planning process.

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