Ownership of land, or the absence of, is often cited as being a major barrier to increasing food production and achieving sustainable livelihoods in developing countries. When farmers do not own their own land, particularly true in the case of female farmers, it can be difficult to access credit and invest in on-farm improvements. Beyond the practical benefits of owning your own land it also reduces conflict over land use and removes the threat of having your livelihood taken away. An estimated five million people worldwide suffer from forced evictions every year.
Large-scale land acquisitions have become a topic of debate and in 2009 hedge funds and other speculators bought or leased almost 60 million hectares of land in Africa. In a bid to safeguard the rights of local people and avoid mass displacement, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has created Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Tenure. Released in May 2012, the guidelines, seen as a landmark decision of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), set out principles and standards for responsible governance of tenure over natural resources. In the words of the FAO, “They provide a framework that States can use when developing their own strategies, policies, legislation, programmes and activities. They allow governments, civil society, the private sector and citizens to judge whether their proposed actions and the actions of others constitute acceptable practices’.
While the guidelines acknowledge that in some cases large-scale investments, when responsibly managed, can actually improve food security, they also acknowledge the importance of protecting tenure rights of local people.
The guidelines address a wide range of issues including:
· “Recognition and protection of legitimate tenure rights, even under informal systems
· Best practices for registration and transfer of tenure rights
· Making sure that tenure administrative systems are accessible and affordable
· Managing expropriations and restitution of land to people who were forcibly evicted in the past
· Rights of indigenous communities
· Ensuring that investment in agricultural lands occurs responsibly and transparently
· Mechanisms for resolving disputes over tenure rights
· Dealing with the expansion of cities into rural areas”
Aside from the guidelines some countries such as Eritrea, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda are also working to formalise customary or traditional systems of land rights meaning countries will have legal or procedural mechanisms to protect these rights. For other countries who have endorsed the guidelines they must now implement them on the ground with the support of the FAO.