The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has begun consultations on the first-ever international guidelines on governance of tenure to land and other natural resources such as water supplies, fisheries and forests.
The consultations are expected to take over a year to complete and involve governments, the private sector, poor farmers, indigenous groups, local authorities, academia and independent experts.
“Secure access to land is seen as a key condition to improving food security of some of the world’s poorest people,” said Paul Munro-Faure, the Chief of the Land Tenure and Management Unit of FAO.
“FAO is taking the lead in this exercise because secure land access is the best safety-net for the poor, and because good governance of land is a necessary condition for secure land access and land tenure rights,” he added.
The agency said that although most FAO member nations have rules to protect people from being thrown off their land or having their land seized, laws are often ignored or poorly enforced.
Alexander Müller, Assistant Director General of FAO’s Natural Resources Department, noted that competition for land and other natural resources is on the rise owing to population and economic growth, and demands for biofuels, among other things.
“Without responsible governance,” he said, “growing demands for land threatens to foster social exclusion as the rich and powerful are able to acquire land and other natural resources at the expense of the poor and vulnerable.”
According to FAO, women, the disabled, the illiterate and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to having the land they farm arbitrarily seized as they often lack legal and social rights, or where those rights do exist are powerless to enforce them.
Mr. Müller pointed out that weak governance is a cause of many tenure-related problems and hinders economic growth. “It also affects the sustainable use of natural resources, causing environmental degradation and condemning people to a life of hunger and in the worst scenarios can cause conflict and war,” he said.