Governance of Tenure

The Economic Community of West African States embraces the Voluntary Guidelines

Pastoralist communities have always practiced nomadism as a strategic adaption to variable conditions and have developed ways of living and methods of farming that safeguard the land and its resources. In Sahel countries, livestock farming accounts for around 40% of agricultural GDP and pastoral systems generate 50% of all meat and 70% of all milk produced. However, in recent years, competition for access to natural resources has been exacerbated and the livelihoods of rural communities are being threatened.

Pastoralism, agriculture, mining and urbanization, combined with the impacts of climate change, civil unrest and population growth have led to the degradation of pastureland and a major reduction in rangeland. This combination of factors, national boundaries and differences between national and regional frameworks regarding mobility have been detrimental to the lives of the pastoral communities.

Securing the rights of pastoral communities in this complex context was at heart of the consultative workshop on the responsible governance of pastoral land tenure in the ECOWAS region held in Lomé, Togo from 28-30 March 2019. The workshop, organized by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) and FAO, identified and discussed initiatives to protect pastoral land tenure and to reflect on the role the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (VGGT) could play at regional level. These pioneering guidelines outline the principles and practices that governments can refer to when making laws and administering land, fisheries, and forest rights.

This meeting marked the first time that the VGGT were considered as a tool for improved governance in the pastoralist context in the region, occurring at a critical moment when pastoralist traditions and livelihoods are increasingly under threat.

The participants, representing Ministries of Livestock from fifteen ECOWAS countries and Mauritania, representatives of regional agricultural organizations and international non-governmental organizations, welcomed the opportunity to determine how to put the VGGT into use at regional, national and local level. They discussed how the VGGT could contribute to the development of a regional agenda to protect pastoral tenure systems and exchange experiences, in particular in the Senegal River Basin. The workshop was also an opportunity for the FAO Pastoralist Knowledge Hub and the FAO Land Tenure Unit to build on previous experiences and to continue to support the dissemination and implementation of the technical guide “Improving governance of pastoral land”.

One of the main results of the discussions was ECOWAS’ commitment to revise the regulatory framework on transhumance between ECOWAS countries, authorizing mobility and the use of watering points and pastoral land in line with the VGGT. Mr Sékou Sangaré, the commissioner in charge of agriculture, environment and water resources, highlighted the importance of implementing the VGGT in the region at this critical moment of land reforms and pastoral land use planning.

CILSS and ECOWAS also resolved to maintain their partnership with FAO to implement the VGGT in the region. In addition, each country represented in the workshop committed to concrete actions in favor of pastoral communities creating a roadmap of short, medium and long-term goals.

Sofia Espinosa, a FAO Land Tenure Expert leading the workshop explained that “…the commitment of ECOWAS and the potential policies to protect pastureland gives a real sense of hope to pastoralist communities – they feel that regional authorities and international organizations are behind them, working to protect both their land and their rights.”  

For further information on legal and policy arrangements for cross-border pastoralism:


The Economic Community of West African States Member states include:
Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo.