This week, the UN Committee on Food Security (CFS) held its 37th session in Rome, which looked at food price volatility, gender, food security and nutrition and agricultural investment. The session was meant to open with the adoption of new voluntary guidelines on land tenure, but governments were unable to finalise negotiations. The international alliance of Catholic development agencies CIDSE welcomes the efforts put into the talks so far, while urging governments to finalise negotiations as soon as possible and move towards putting the guidelines in practice. The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests are meant to protect land tenure of small scale food producers, urgently needed in view of land grabbing which has dramatically increased in recent years.
CIDSE and other civil society organisations who participated in the negotiations in Rome highlight the progress made. Nearly three quarters of the text of the Voluntary Guidelines were successfully negotiated, including critical issues such as the recognition and protection of customary tenure, the tenure of forests and fisheries and the protection of rights defenders responding to the critical issue of their criminalisation. Several controversial issues, such as those relating to investments in agriculture remain open, however. According to CIDSE, “The land belongs to those who work it. Acknowledging the right of small farmers and local communities to cultivate their own land is an important step towards food security, as their right to food should always have priority over land investments.”
The issue of land governance is of growing importance. As much as 227 million hectares of land in developing countries (about the size of Western Europe) has been sold or leased since 2001. The bulk of these have taken place in the last 2 years, an overwhelming majority in Africa. The increase in land grabbing is linked to the 2007-2008 food price crisis which has triggered the interest of investors and governments in agriculture because of its profit making potential. The demand for food, timber, carbon sequestration and mineral exploration, as well as agro-fuels directives in developed countries, are key drivers of land grabbing. Investors include national elites, foreign companies and international governments, including oil rich states and China looking to secure food for their populations.