Rice paddies along the Mekong River, Vietnam. To practice responsible and sustainable farming, smallholders need secure access to their lands.
Photo: © giz

Strengthening farmers’ land rights with soft laws

One of the expert panels at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) dealt with the topic: ‘Beyond policy change: using the VGGT to secure tenure rights for farmers’ and revolved around the question of how internationally agreed principles can be used to strengthen the legitimate land rights of smallholders.

Global inequality is on the rise, and land access is no exception. This was one of the key messages emphasised by Benjamin Davis, Director of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division, during an expert panel discussion on strengthening farmers’ land rights. The expert panel was organised at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Welthungerhilfe, and the International Land Coalition (ILC), in January this year.

The world’s arable land is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, a trend that threatens the livelihoods of 2.5 billion people around the globe, Davis emphasised.

How can especially smallholders, indigenous peoples and rural communities assert their right to fair and secure land access?

Ten years after the adoption of the UN Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (VGGT), experts have drawn an encouraging conclusion: the relevant political and legal frameworks have improved in many countries. But the influence of the guidelines has barely manifested itself in practice, as the moderator of the panel and Director of the International Land Coalition (ILC) Mike Taylor emphasised.

Farmers’ land rights continue to be curtailed on a massive scale, and many smallholders are deprived of their land – often without any prior consultation – after cultivating a parcel of land for many years. Women, in particular, rarely have opportunities to defend their legitimate right to land, Naome Kabanda of the Ugandan Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development explained.

Welthungerhilfe, for instance, collaborates with various civil society partners in the Global South which seek to address this problem. Although the UN VGGT are soft laws, meaning that they are non-binding, they are a useful tools that can achieve concrete change.

The role of multi-stakeholder platforms - MSP

Sonkita Conteh of Namati in Sierra Leone told the panel how large-scale education campaigns support local communities in asserting their legitimate rights in the context of large-scale land-based investments. The guidelines are applied in discussion spaces to resolve land conflicts and used in multi-stakeholder platforms (MSP) to promote transparency and accountability in the land sector.

All participants agreed that these experiences must be promoted more widely and must be scaled. For VGGT-oriented change, we need a new commitment: promoting collective efforts, boosting investments and reaffirming political will and support.

More information:

Links to success stories from Sierra Leone, and Senegal:

Sierra Leone success story

Senegal success story

Senegal river basin success story

Link to Multi-Stakeholder MSP brochure: English

Link to Multi-Stakeholder MSP brochure: French

This article first appeared at weltohnehunger.org and is part of a media cooperation between Rural 21 and One World - No Hunger.


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    Aaron Innocent Bature February 10, 2022 At 7:14 pm
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