Session Convener: Jes Weigelt and Charlotte Beckh (IASS Potsdam)
Session Rapporteur: Paul Mathieu (FAO)
The Working Group 1 "Governing Land Responsibly – Institutions and Actors" of the Policies Against Hunger Conference discussed lessons learned from challenges to the implementation of land tenure reforms and explored triggers for moving towards responsible land governance. The working group finally made recommendations for the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land (VGGT) taking into account lessons from experiences in different countries presented in the working group and the results of the discussion among the working group participants.
In many parts of the world, smallholders, women and indigenous communities do not hold secure property, use and access rights in land. This poses serious threats to their livelihoods and food security. Often, this occurs despite of pro-poor land policies. Prevailing power relations and vested interests contribute to this outcome. The VGGT describe internationally agreed upon principles which put land rights of marginalized groups and the right to food in the center. However, in many contexts, moving from the status quo of land governance to the principles laid out in these VGGT would often require fundamental societal change. Hence, the question addressed in this working group was which actors and institutions can trigger change towards responsible land governance systems in practice.
The session brought together different stakeholders from civil society, government and science: José Heder Benatti (Universidade Federal do Pará and former head of the land reform agency of the state of Pará, Brazil), Noer Fauzi Rachman (Executive Director of Sajogyo Institute, Indonesia), Jes Weigelt (Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies IASS Potsdam), Ramesh Sharma (Ekta Parishad, India), Rivo Andrianirina Ratsialonana (Observatoire du Foncier, Madagascar), Jan Börner (Center for Development Research, University of Bonn), and Barbara van Paassen (ActionAid, Netherlands).
2 Key messages
1. Key message: Translating the VGGT into practice is not a mere technical but in essence a social and political process.
Land relations are deeply embedded in power relations. Hence, reforming land tenure according to the principles laid out in the VGGT is often not only a technical process, but a social and political one. It is about recognizing human rights which inevitably implies changing existing unequal societal structures. Thus, it is crucial to make the discriminatory nature of the actually existing land governance systems visible, when addressing land reform policies. Responsible land governance requires, first, that legitimate rights of marginalized groups are incorporated into law. Making these rights effective requires that others respect these rights. To achieve this, responsible land governance must, second, ensure that rights are enforced and, third, foster societal acceptance of the rights.
As a consequence, it is crucial to support inclusive, participatory multi-stakeholder dialogues. Since participation may not always be inclusive, complaint mechanisms and safeguards for dialogue need to be put in place. Existing multi-stakeholder platforms can shed light on how to make these dialogues operational and the challenges that might emerge when implementing these platforms.
2. Key message: Translating the VGGT into practice needs actions by governments and civil society.
Governments and civil society have to play important and mutual supportive roles. Amongst their original administrative tasks governments should acknowledge and support civil society and in particular women’s movements in land policy design and implementation. When interacting with the state, civil society should acknowledge the diversity within the state apparatus. While governments must respect different land use demands and be open for negotiations, inclusive and participatory processes are needed to define who has priority when there are contestations (e.g. priority for smallholders). Participants mentioned that in many countries political will to act exists only when political gains are larger than political risks. Hence, governments have be hold accountable and political will has to be stimulated, provoked and pressured by civil society. To this end, civil society alliance building and advocacy needs strong support, since "numbers bring power" in terms of voice and decision-making power. It is important to bear in mind the risk of over-burdening civil society. In the end, it is the responsibility of state institutions to ensure responsible land governance. Furthermore, it was suggested to involve more actively private sector actors as well as other actors such as local financial institutions, regional coalitions, farming associations, chambers of commerce, etc. in land governance.
3. Key message: Since information and knowledge are power, it is crucial to support the exchange of information and knowledge in an accessible and transparent way.
In order to successfully translate the VGGT into practice, it is crucial to support the exchange of information and knowledge on land-related issues (e.g. land title registries, legislation) in an accessible, transparent, non-discriminatory way for all actors. Knowledge of different actors including women, traditional communities, and leaders on different levels needs to be acknowledged and included. Moreover, building (critical) awareness on rights and the VGGT as well as on conflict resolution mechanisms supports civil society’s struggle. In Indonesia, for example, the Alliance of Indigenous People (AMAN) used the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People to create visibility and leverage political change.
To translate the principles of the VGGT into concrete action on the ground, it is crucial to consider the different local contexts, and especially the related social and political relations among different stakeholders. Joint actions and institutional coordination among different government bodies and civil society at the local level as well as making information public in an accessible and transparent way are key for moving towards responsible land governance. The participants suggested that the international community should support at least five countries as a model in which national Governments and civil society have agreed to set up a national process for applying the VGGT through multi-stakeholder dialogues.
What recommendations can be made for the implementation of the principles of the VGGT?
- Build on the existing experiences in implementing pro-poor policies and other responsible land governance processes (defined according to the VGGT).
- International community to support at least five countries in which national Governments and civil society have agreed to set up national VGGT implementation processes (multi-stakeholder platforms) that acknowledge the claims by different groups and prioritize according to the VGGT.
- Exchange information on land governance in an accessible and transparent way (tapping into and acknowledging traditional knowledge).
- Include the necessary safeguard processes so that the process of implementing the VGGT based on a national multi-stakeholder platform will not be taken over by those not interested in responsible land governance (defined according to the VGGT).
- Acknowledge that VGGT is not only a technical process but in essence a social and political question.
- When receiving support requests by national governments or when encouraging national governments for implementing the VGGT at country level, states and international institutions should ensure that the first step is the establishment of inclusive, participatory multi-stakeholder platforms that should oversee support activities. They should assist the national governments in setting up these platforms.
- Acknowledge the linkages between land and the wider societal context. Land relations are deeply embedded in power relations. This applies in particular to women´s land rights. Need for state authorities to aim for establishing "level playing field".
- Civil society: Acknowledge the diversity within the state apparatus and continue to struggle for visibility of people and their rights.
- Different organizations of the Government structure should work together at the local level. There is the need for a "host" organization in this (mapping of which institution is best equipped for this according to the VGGT explicating the discriminatory nature of the actually existing land governance system).
- Governments acknowledge and support civil society and women´s movements in land policy design and implementation (in particular, in community building "numbers bring power").
- Ensure coherence in national and international processes and policies (e.g., trade and investment policies or RAI and VGGT) and include responsible land governance targets in the post-2015 development agenda. The ultimate criterion to guide these processes is placing the last first.
- Build up complaint and dispute resolution mechanisms (e.g. land tribunals, India).
- Learn from successful cross-compliance mechanisms (e.g. Brazil).