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Wednesday, April 1, 2015
- If slavery was a scourge to humanity, denying legitimate tenure rights is the cancer eating away the future of smallholder farmers who feed the world, often under trying conditions, say civil society organisations.
“The developed countries succeeded by developing their agriculture and the capital from agriculture was the basis for the industrial development thanks to the rights to land,” José Antonio Osaba Garcia from the World Rural Forum (WRF) and coordinator of the International Year of Family Farming (ITFF) tells TerraViva.
“Why is Africa and other countries not being allowed to develop their agriculture rooted in family farms as the basis for developing their countries? It is because land tenure is the heart of this.”
Hundreds of millions of small landholders, pastoralists and indigenous people do not hold formal land titles. And when it suits governments, they ignore this customary land holding and sell or lease the land to private companies.
Garcia says the global land rush, particularly in Africa, has exposed the extent to which smallholder farmers are being disposed of their ancestral lands that supported food security.
“Agriculture is the basis of development and we see that the pressure is strong in favour of big investors, many times at the expense of family farming, particularly in Africa and Latin America. I cannot single out models where land tenure is working, but we have heard about some success of land tenure in Brazil. But that too has had some problems.”
According to data compiled by the International Land Coalition, some 45 million hectares of land has been or is about to be signed over to foreign investors in Africa, Southern Asia and Latin America.
“It would seem that most land is already owned de facto by rural communities under a range of diverse tenure systems, although in many cases these rights are not registered,” Harold Liversage, a land tenure adviser for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), writes in an independent analysis on the issue.
“Also, in many cases, national states consider under-used land as being available for disposal to outside investors.”
Liversage says, however, that this perception is starting to change in many developing countries with the recognition that, while some land may be under-used, very little is not owned, vacant or unused.
In an effort to safeguard land tenure rights, FAO developed the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure, which has been endorsed by the Committee on World Food Security. The Guidelines seek the promotion and protection of land tenure, especially for vulnerable groups, through specific legislation.
At a side event to discuss the International Year of Family Farming and the Voluntary Guidelines, Francisca Rodrigues from La Vía Campesina expressed concern that the voluntary nature of the guidelines meant they were not enforceable.
“The application of the guidelines relies on the countries’ willingness and readiness to work on them and the commitment of government is crucial,” says FAO land tenure officer in the National Resources Management and Environment Department Francesca Romano.
“That is what they are made for: countries where tenure is insecure and where the governance of tenure is weak and where there are problems related to tenure of land, forests and fisheries. This is where they have to work,” she says.
Garcia tells TerraViva that while international investment in agriculture is welcome, it should not come at the expense of local family farmers through land grabs.
The Global Alliance Against Land Grabbing convened by La Vía Campesina and its allies in Mali in 2011 noted that land grabbing dislocated communities and endangered their identity.
“Those who dare stand up to defend their legitimate rights and survival of their families and communities are beaten, imprisoned and killed… The struggle against land grabbing is a struggle against capitalism,” La Via Campesina says.
A report titled Land Concentration, Land Grabbing and People’s Struggles In Europe, by European Coordination Via Campesina and Hands off the Land alliance published in April argues that land concentration and land grabbing do not occur only in developing countries in the South, but are happening in the North, too.
The report says, for instance, that just three percent of landowners in Europe have come to control half of all farmed land, with massive concentration of land ownership and wealth on a par with Brazil, Colombia and the Philippines.