Governance of Tenure

Governance of tenure newsletter

01 May 2015


11 May marks the third anniversary of the endorsement of the Voluntary Guidelines by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). These Guidelines represent an unprecedented agreement on internationally recognized principles and practices on the governance of tenure. They were prepared through negotiations by governments of countries from all regions of the world and with diverse political, economic, social, cultural and religious views. The negotiations included participation by representatives of civil society, private sector and research institutes.

The Voluntary Guidelines are a means to an end: they were prepared to help people address problems of tenure by providing guidance in the form of existing good practices. Some improvements can be introduced quickly but others require much time and effort to build the consensus and the will to overcome problems that may have divided people for generations. Everyone can make a contributionto improving governance of tenure, whether in government, civil society organizations, private sector enterprises, and universities and research institutes. The Voluntary Guidelines can be used by different people, in different ways, and in partnership with others.

For more information on the Voluntary Guidelines and their development see:  

 Land Tenure Journal     Land Tenure Working Paper No.25  

It’s exciting to see the progress made supporting countries in their implementation of the CFS Voluntary Guidelines on the third anniversary of their 2012 endorsement. In this short time, awareness has grown rapidly at the global and regional levels.  Not only that, more recently FAO’s commitments to support country-level activities such as raising awareness, creating capacity, providing advice and supporting implementation have been scaled up and are having a real impact on the ground. And it’s not just FAO - the Voluntary Guidelines have gone viral.  They were frequently referenced by governments, civil society, the private sector, academia and other groups making up the annual Land and Poverty Conference organized by the World Bank in Washington DC earlier this year. That’s very promising!

I encourage you to continue joining forces wherever possible to implement the Voluntary Guidelines at grassroots; this is really what makes the difference. 


Illovo launches its Group Guidelines on Land and Land Rights

Illovo Sugar Limited, the leading manufacturer and supplier of sugar and downstream products in Africa, has joined the growing commitment of the private sector to protect the land rights of communities in which it operates. Illovo has pledged to promote the adoption of responsible land rights practices of the Voluntary Guidelines and the United Nations Global Compact. This commitment is expressed in Illovo’s Group Guidelines on Land and Land Rights, and complements the company’s Strategic Intent and its Group Code of Conduct and Business Ethics. Work has started in Malawi and Mozambique and is being piloted through multi-stakeholder processes.

Read the Illovo newsbrief
Read the Illovo Group Guidelines on Land and Land Rights


Oxfam reports on using the Voluntary Guidelines

Oxfam’s work on land rights and land governance is increasingly inspired by the Voluntary Guidelines, which it regards as a key instrument in driving improved policies and practices on land. Building on work with civil society on land in over 40 countries, Oxfam has, since 2012, called on influential global players to embrace and implement the Voluntary Guidelines – from food and drink giants Coca Cola, Pepsi, Unilever and Nestlé, to the World Bank Group and the G8. A key area of work involves keeping the pressure on companies and others to honour their commitments on land issues.

This complementary local-to-global approach is intended to help enable all key stakeholders play a supporting role in ensuring that marginalized women, men and communities can advance, secure, and defend their rights to the land they need for just and equitable development. Activities vary by country, including support for platforms engaging government, parliament, media and companies on new land laws, such as in Viet Nam, or supporting rural women to engage their leaders on land issues, for instance in Tanzania. Collaboration with FAO is being planned to support CSO engagement on the Voluntary Guidelines in Malawi, Nepal, Niger and Uganda.

See Oxfam's roadmap tracking progress on company land commitments.

UNECE and FAO join forces

On 16th April, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and FAO signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Land Administration and Management. UNECE Executive Secretary Christian Friis Bach noted that the MoU formalizes the already strong cooperation between the two organizations on developing national capacities in the UNECE member States in the areas of land administration and management. The agreement promotes the development, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of comprehensive and effective land policies, and supports the improvement of governance of tenure in line with the Voluntary Guidelines. The importance of the FAO-UNECE cooperation for effective implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines was underlined by Vladimir Rakhmanin, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Europe and Central Asia.

Collaboration with civil society in Europe and Central Asia

FAO worked together with the European Coordination of La Via Campesina (ECVC) in a project aimed at boosting CSO’s capacity to participate meaningfully in the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines. A series of public events and training (in January in Rome, and in April in Brussels) successfully strengthened the dialogue between CSOs and the FAO Regional Office in Europe and Central Asia. FAO has greatly expanded work on fighting food insecurity in partnership with non-state actors, in particular with CSOs as they play an important role in mobilizing and launching initiatives seeking social justice and respect for human rights. Establishing and strengthening collaborative relationships with CSOs in the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines is essential.

ECVC ran the project in collaboration with FIAN International, Transnational Institute (TNI), Crocevia and 20 different organizations of smallholders from more than 15 countries, from Spain to Kyrgyzstan.


First field trial of Open Tenure in Cambodia

During 16-20 February, Open Tenure was tested in a trial with a community forestry group in northwest Cambodia. The participants were quick to learn how to operate the software. According to the community leader Venerable Bun Salouth, “Open Tenure will be helpful as it will allow people to know their land and what they can use within the community forest.” The successful trial also provided a number of useful ideas for refining the tool.

Open Tenure is aimed at helping communities to better govern their natural resources. It uses handheld tablets, open source software, and a community server, allowing community members to map and collect data on land tenure claims in their community. The data can then be viewed and moderated, and important documents and photos can be stored electronically for safekeeping. Open Tenure was developed by FAO with financial support from the UK Department for International Development (DFID).


National forum on land policy, Madagascar (17-19 February)

Over 170 people, representing all stakeholder groups in Madagascar, participated in a national forum for the consolidation of Madagascar's land policy in Antananarivo. The workshop raised awareness of the Voluntary Guidelines and promoted discussions on what is needed to implement tenure policies. It laid the groundwork for reflection on the possible application of the Voluntary Guidelines in the second phase of the country’s land reform. Building on the good collaboration established during this important event, the Ministry in charge of Presidential Projects, Territorial Planning and Equipment (MEPATE) and FAO agreed to cooperate on land tenure governance. The workshop was organized by FAO with the financial support of France.

Course on Public Policy Dialogue on the Voluntary Guidelines, Peru (11-13 March)

The first module of a course on Public Policy Dialogue around the Voluntary Guidelines was presented in Lima, Peru. The module on “Responsible Governance of Tenure” gave an overview of the Voluntary Guidelines and their applicability to the Peruvian context. Emphasis was placed on access to natural resources from a human rights perspective to facilitate the dialogue between civil society organizations and state actors with regard to the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines.

The course runs from March to June. It targets leaders of farmer organizations and indigenous peoples, and involves state actors in order to contribute to the political debate and setting up the framework that will make the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines viable and effective. The course is organized by the Peruvian Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, FAO, Welthungerhilfe, the International Land Coalition, Plataforma para una Gobernanza Responsable de la Tierra-Peru, the National Convention of Peruvian Agriculture and the Peruvian Center for Social Studies.

World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, USA (23-27 March)

The nature and number of activities presented by civil society, private sector, academia and others at the recent World Bank conference show the Voluntary Guidelines are becoming increasingly relevant to more people across the world. Presentations across the many sessions included how the Voluntary Guidelines can be used in the integration of e-learning materials in university courses, in peri-urban areas, in climate change activities, in the post-2015 agenda, and in developed countries. Also highlighted were the new collaborations and alliances that have been formed to operationalize their use. The Innovation Fair and the Masterclasses included innovative enabling technologies. Participants were able to get hands-on experience with Open Tenure (for recording community rights) and SOLA (for recording rights in a formal system).


UserRights 2015 Forum on Tenure & Fishing Rights, Cambodia (23-27 March)

UserRights 2015 was an opportunity to share success stories and challenges in the process of designing and implementing appropriate rights-based systems for fisheries. The discussions showed there is no one-size-fits-all solution when designing rights-based systems for the wide diversity of fisheries around the world. A consensus on how to address the many issues related to tenure in fisheries has yet to be reached. However, while working towards a consensus, participants identified the allocation of fishing rights, the financing of the transformation to rights-based systems and the provision of training and tools for capacity development as the most pressing issues. FAO hopes to respond to the issues raised by organizing follow-up events for stakeholders to continue working together on finding holistic solutions.

The forum brought together 140 participants from 38 countries and was co-organized by the Fisheries Administration of Cambodia and FAO. A report on the outcomes will be available from July 2015 at

Seventh Open Session on Agricultural Issues, Colombia (25 March)

The Voluntary Guidelines were prominent at the Seventh Open Session on Agricultural Issues hosted by the Externado University, Colombia, with support from FAO. The Open Session addressed land tenure at the national level, with an emphasis on the development of agricultural policies and its contribution to land acquisition. The debate was aimed at academics, given their key role in conducting research and carrying out studies that can contribute to raising awareness of the Voluntary Guidelines. Presentations included the role of the Voluntary Guidelines in the context of national food security; the phenomenon of the global land rush and its peculiarities in the Latin American context; and the relationship between land and political power in the country.

Land Rally 2015, Ghana (25-26 March)

The Land Rally 2015 provided an opportunity for 110 participants to add their voices to the debate on large-scale land acquisitions. The discussions covered issues such as inclusive and participatory decision-making processes; building responsive and accountable land governance; securing legitimate tenure rights; and payment of fair and adequate compensation. Action points and recommendations for consideration were developed. Best practices were shared in the form of the Voluntary Guidelines; Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa; Guiding Principles on Large-Scale Land-Based Investments in Africa; Free, Prior and Informed Consent Principle (FPIC); and the draft Guidelines for Large-Scale Land Acquisitions in Ghana. The workshop included speeches by the Minister of Land and Natural Resources, Chairman of Ghana Lands Commission, Presidents of the Queen Mothers Associations and representatives from the National House of Chiefs. It was organized by the Civil Society Coalition on Land (CICOL) in Accra, Ghana.