Strenghtening Farmers' Rights with Soft Laws

The GFFA’s expert panel ‘Beyond policy change: using the VGGT to secure tenure rights for farmers’ revolves around successes and challenges of secure land tenure for smallholders.

Rice patties at River Mekong, Vietnam. For a responsible and sustainable farming practice, smallholders need secure access to their lands. © GIZ 2022

Welthungerhilfe (WHH)

Welthungerhilfe

Welthungerhilfe is one of the largest private aid organizations in Germany and is committed to a secure diet, the development of agriculture and the conservation of resources.

Global inequality is on the rise, and land access is no exception. This was one the key messages emphasised by Benjamin Davis, Director of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division, during a specialist panel discussion on strengthening farmers’ land rights. The world’s arable land is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, a circumstance that threatens the livelihoods of 2.5 billion people around the globe.

 

We are urged to act: promoting collective action, boosting investment and reaffirming political will. - Benjamin Davis, FAO

 

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 conditions 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 suddenly disowned – often without any prior consultation – after cultivating a parcel of land for many years. Women, in particular, rarely have opportunities to defend themselves, Naome Kabanda of the Ugandan Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development explained.

 

Die befragten Menschen möchten sich aktiver an Food-Governance-Prozessen beteiligen. (c) SLE
Voluntary guidelines encourage smallholders to speak up for their rights against governments and investors, such as here in Sierra Leone. © Welthungerhilfe 2022

Welthungerhilfe works with various civic organisations 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 useful tools that can achieve concrete change. Sonkita Conteh of Namati in Sierra Leone told the panel how large-scale education campaigns support local communities in asserting their legitimate rights against governments and investors. The guidelines are applied in discussion spaces to solve land conflicts and used in multi-player platforms to promote transparency and accountability in the agricultural sector.

 

All participants agreed that these experiences must be promoted more widely. This requires three factors: collective efforts, more financial support and greater political will.

 

The GFFA expert panel on January 27th 2022 was organised by FAO, GIZ, ILC and Welthungerhilfe in partnership with Land for Life.

 

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