Forerunning new international decision-making on land issues?

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FIAN | 28 October 2010 | Español

Forerunning new international decision-making on land issues? – A report on the CFS land discussions, Rome, October 8-16, 2010

By Sofia Monsalve, FIAN International

The first session of the reformed Committee on World Food Security (CFS) that came to an end last October 16th had been eagerly awaited. At least five highly relevant issues were on the agenda: food security in protracted crisis, food price volatility, the development of a Global Strategic Framework for Food Security, and the issue of land tenure and international investment in agriculture.

The mere placement of land as a key issue on the CFS agenda merits recognition. The rural and urban poor´s lack of adequate and secure access to land and natural resources continues to be one of the key causes of hunger and poverty in the world. And more so now in light of the current trend of increasing conflicts over land and natural resources, widespread forced evictions, violent displacement and (re)concentration of land and natural resources in the hands of a few due to new forms of land grabbing. In a sense, delivering an international response to the current land problems has become a test for the reformed CFS´s effectiveness.

Specifically, the CFS discussed two initiatives in a policy round table: the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Land and Natural Resources Tenure (VG) and the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investments that Respects Rights, Livelihoods and Resources (RAI).

During the CSO forum, held prior to the CFS, civil society organizations including members of the IPC working group on agrarian reform and territory, such as La Via Campesina, the International Indian Treaty Council, the Asian Rural Women’s Coalition, PROPAC, Focus on the Global South, FIAN and other organizations like Oxfam developed a common position which was presented to the CFS policy round table. This position included the following key points:

1. Recall the importance of the International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD), and urge States to implement the commitments they made in the ICARRD final declaration concerning secure access to and control over land and natural resources for small scale food producers/providers, genuine agrarian reform and sustainable rural development policies.

2. Call on the CFS to support the FAO Guidelines for land and natural resource tenure, with special attention on the following:

  • reiterate the importance of basing the guidelines on existing binding instruments of international human rights law;
  • establish an open-ended inter-governmental working group to adequately build consensus on the text of the guidelines;
  • these guidelines are a crucial step in strengthening the existing regime for protecting the rights of local food producers and providers; other measures and initiatives should follow in the establishment of such a regime, for example, on regulation of the finance capital operations, regulation of international trade, etc.

3. Call on the CFS to not endorse RAI since they are not an adequate instrument to regulate private investment; moreover, RAI principles have been formulated through an exclusive process without the participation of the communities and constituencies most affected by agricultural investments, especially private investments. What is needed instead are nationally and internationally enforceable laws and public regulations on all investments pertaining to land, including provisions on extraterritorial obligations of states to regulate and make private companies accountable for their operations abroad.

4. Call for a moratorium on large-scale land acquisitions (lease and purchase) by private companies given the urgency of the problems of dispossession, evictions and displacement arising from large-scale private investment.

5. Request the CFS to start an open and inclusive discussion on what types of agricultural investment are needed to support agro-ecological food and agricultural production with due attention to all different types of food producers (indigenous peoples, nomadic pastoralists, artisanal fisherfolk and peasants), taking into particular consideration the needs of women and youth.

CFS, participants both government and civil society representatives expressed universal support for continuing the process of developing the FAO Guidelines. Discussion arose mainly around the points of how and especially when to approve the Guidelines. Whereas the European Union wanted the Guidelines to be adopted in the next FAO Conference in June 2011, China, Afghanistan and Mexico did not want to determine any exact date for approval. Here, FIAN intervened strongly, urging the governments to take action without delay on one of the most pressing issues of our time, and this brought about a breakthrough.

The compromise´s text now reads that the Guidelines will be presented for consideration to the next session of CFS in October 2011. As for the modality of negotiation, the CFS accepted the CSO proposal to establish an intergovernmental working group to review the first draft of the Guidelines which will be presented by the FAO's Land Tenure Team in early 2011.

On the RAI, several governments, particularly South Africa, Egypt on behalf of the Near East group, China and civil society representatives expressed strong opposition to the endorsement of RAI. As well as CSO, these governments felt that there has not been an appropriate consultative process concerning this initiative. In the end, the CFS did not endorse this process but took only a note of it and decided, in line with its role, to start an inclusive process of consideration of RAI within CFS.

Both CFS decisions represent an important achievement for the IPC working group on agrarian reform and territory. It does make a difference if social movements and other civil society organizations can discuss on equal footing with their governments. The World Bank and other UN agencies cannot continue promoting RAI and thereby legitimizing large-scale land acquisition. Undoubtedly, RAI received a serious damper. An inclusive discussion about how to regulate all investments pertaining to land, including provisions on extra-territorial obligations of states to regulate and make private companies accountable for their operations abroad is certainly at the order of the day. In this point we might not be in agreement with the countries which blocked RAI in the CFS discussions. More generally, we expect that the CFS will address in its discussions next year the following key question : What types of agricultural investment are needed to support agro-ecological food and agricultural production with due attention to all different types of food producers (indigenous peoples, nomadic pastoralists, artisanal fisherfolk and peasants), taking into particular considerationneeds of women and youth.

On the other hand, we look forward to a serious process of negotiations concerning the FAO Guidelines so that they can command strong legitimacy, support, and political will to guarantee the effective protection and realization of the rights to land and natural resources of women, youth, Indigenous Peoples, nomadic pastoralists, peasants, fisherfolks and traditional communities. The FAO Guidelines can become an important instrument to combat land grabbing, but it is by far not the only one which is necessary to prevent land grabbing. Other initiatives such as mandatory and strict state regulation of investors in several policy fields like financial markets, investment, agriculture and trade policies also need to be developed.

In the meantime, while finalising these processes, we reiterate our call for a moratorium on large-scale land acquisitions (lease and purchase) by private companies given the urgency of the problems of dispossession, evictions, and displacement arising from large-scale private investment. We also commit ourselves to support the local communities´ resistance against land grabbing and to build strong alliances in order to keep the land in the hands of peasants, indigenous peoples, fisherfolks, nomadic pastoralists and traditional communities.
Original source: FIAN
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1 Comments


  1. FJ Unger, Naga Foundation
    09 Feb 2011

    Restoration of degraded lands holds the key to resolving many of the issues adressed above. www.nagafoundation.org As it now reads there's plenty of talk but little action. Keeping organizations and so called experts occupied and writing lenghty reports certainly explains where most of the cost are incurred and money is spend. Question is to what end.

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