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Consensus reached on guidelines for land tenure and access to fisheries and forests

Negotiating group sends text to Committee on World Food Security for final approval

Photo: ©FAO/Roberto Faidutti / FAO
Small farmers stand to benefit when clear rules of the road and transparent processes for land tenure management exist.

13 March 2012, Rome - International talks convened at FAO last week to finalize negotiations on a proposed set of voluntary global guidelines on responsible governance of land tenure and access rights to land, fisheries and forest resources have concluded successfully.

The proposed guidelines are now set to be considered for final approval by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) at a special session in Rome in mid-May.

"Once approved, the guidelines will be voluntary, but because they have been drawn up in such a comprehensive and inclusive process, and because there is this shared perception that a framework like this is sorely needed, we all anticipate that they will set the bar for policymakers," said Yaya Olaniran, current chair of CFS. "In fact, we're already seeing governments moving to bring their policies and practices into alignment with the guidelines," he added.

The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security outline principles and practices that governments and other actors can refer to when administering land, fisheries and forests rights in order to serve the best interests of their populations and promote food security and rural development.

Developed over the past three years in a far-reaching and inclusive consultation process involving governments as well as civil society organizations, nonprofits, farmers' associations and the private sector, the proposed guidelines come within the context of intensifying competition for land and other natural resources resulting from a variety of factors, including population growth, urbanization and large-scale purchases of farmland in the developing world by both overseas interests and domestic investors.

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva congratulated the participants of the negotiations on a "milestone achievement," adding: "The Voluntary Guidelines will play an important part in answering the challenge of ending hunger and assuring food security of every child, woman and man in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable way."

The guidelines cover a wide range of issues, including promoting equal rights for women in securing title to land, creating transparent record-keeping systems that are accessible to the rural poor, and how to recognize and protect informal, traditional rights to land, forests and fisheries.

Once officially approved by CFS, they will serve as an authoritative reference for national authorities when passing laws and setting policy related to access- and ownership rights for land, fisheries, and forest resources. The guidelines are also intended to give investors and developers clear indications on best practices and to provide civil society land rights groups with benchmarks they can use in their work on behalf of rural communities.

Moving towards final approval

Ninety-six countries (plus the European Union as an FAO Member organization) along with nongovernmental groups, civil society organizations, UN agencies and other international organizations, farmers associations, and private sector representatives took part in several rounds of talks by an Open Ended Working Group established by CFS to negotiate the text of the guidelines. The last and final round of negotiations was held March 5 to 9 at FAO's Rome headquarters.

"The participatory way in which these negotiations led by the Committee on World Food Security took place deserves praise. This is a welcome dialogue. It is important for the Voluntary Guidelines, and is necessary to respond to other challenges related to food security and rural development," said Graziano da Silva.

The CFS Secretariat will make the text of the guidelines finalized last week by the Working Group available soon on its website.

CFS will consider that text for final approval at a special session, tentatively scheduled to be held in Rome on 18 May.

CFS is the top international platform for all stakeholders to work together to ensure food security and nutrition for all. It is made up of governments, UN agencies, civil society organizations, agricultural research systems, financial institutions, private sector associations and private philanthropic foundations.  The CFS Secretariat includes staff from FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).