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FAO targets land tenure

Land ownership laws a key instrument in fighting hunger

Photo: ©FAO/P.C. Zietsman
Unravelling the land tenure issue
27 October 2009, Rome - FAO has begun widespread consultations over the first ever international guidelines on governance of tenure to land and other natural resources such as water supplies, fisheries and forests. 

The consultations and negotiations, responding to requests from the international community and from governments, will take more than a year to complete.

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.