Mr Chair, Distinguished Colleagues,
Let me start by expressing my thanks to the FAO for organizing this timely briefing event. The challenge of achieving sustainable agriculture development and ensuring food security for the world’s population rightly remains high on the international agenda. Last September’s MDG High Level Plenary Meeting called for renewed efforts to end world hunger and achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The European Union is therefore a strong supporter of ongoing efforts led by the FAO to develop the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land and other Natural Resources as a means to alleviate hunger and poverty, empower the poor and vulnerable and help achieve the MDGs.
Moreover, with the release of the zero draft of the Voluntary Guidelines for consultation last Friday, and as we look towards agreeing the final Guidelines at the 37th Session of the Committee on World Food Security in October, this briefing event is a timely opportunity for interested stakeholders here in New York to engage with the FAO-led consultative process to finalise the Voluntary Guidelines.
The Voluntary Guidelines are intended to provide practical guidance to States, civil society and the private sector on the responsible governance of tenure. Allow me to outline here some key aspects of importance to the European Union around equitable access to land, land tenure reforms and implementation issues.
Access to land is a fundamental element for development. There are at least three reasons for this. First, it is a prerequisite for gaining access to other productive resources, be it natural resources such as water, or financial ones such as loans. The way access to land is organised therefore strongly influences the pattern and pace of agricultural development, as well as progress in achieving food security.
Second, equitable access rights form a prerequisite for stability. Unequal distribution of resources and scarcity of these can lead to tensions and increased risk of conflicts.
Addressing resource tenure is therefore one of the key steps towards consolidating peace in post-conflict societies.
Third, security of access forms a condition for the sustainable management of natural resources. Experience has shown that security of access leads to different behaviour of the users; a behaviour which is more long-term oriented and therefore takes sustainability questions better into account. Linkage of resources, such as between land and water or between urban and rural land, requires coordination and cooperation among authorities. Similarly, this applies to nations sharing trans-boundary resources, such as rivers and wetlands.
In a number of countries, land tenure remains a significant constraint to investment, sustainable natural resource management and economic development. An appropriate legal framework supported by robust land policies is required, together with proper tools for their implementation. The EU promotes consensual land policy processes and supports collaboration between state, civil society, private sector, bilateral and multilateral organisations, with the ultimate objective of pro-poor land governance. These principles and values are embodied in the 2004 “EU Land Policy Guidelines”1 that provide conceptual and methodological support to land policy development and land reform programmes. The African Land Policy Guidelines are an excellent example of how a continental level initiative can stimulate national level policy development. Both the AU and the EU Land Policy guidelines recognise that tenure interventions must build on local conditions and include a thorough understanding of local practices and customary tenure systems. The land reform agenda must be driven and owned at the individual country level and, whilst lessons of good practice can be shared across countries, simple one-size-fit-all solutions are unlikely to help.
We must also focus our attention on implementation issues. In many countries, legislation protects the rights of vulnerable groups, yet there remain huge gaps between what should be done in theory and what happens in practice. The issue of womens rights and gender equity is a telling example. Building the capacity of citizens is of great importance to bridge this gap. Measures could include awareness-raising campaigns to disseminate information concerning land policies and laws, such as legal literacy programmes for women and vulnerable groups. Capable and well-informed civil society organizations can also play an important role in the development and implementation of land policy, and in informing government decision-making. Building the capacity of government agencies is equally important, for example in the areas of surveying, land registration, land use planning, land law, valuation and community-based planning and management.
Furthermore, the impact of large scale land acquisition and long term leases of land on food security and poverty reduction and on the local environment will need to be assessed to evaluate the social and economic desirability and the sustainability of these investments. In this regard, best practices and principles for responsible investments in agricultural land will need to be integrated in national legislation and negotiations of investment contracts. They will also need to be integrated in relevant international and national policy frameworks as well as in standards and codes of conduct for foreign direct investment.
I look forward to further reflections today on land governance issues. To conclude, I would like to pose some questions to stimulate our debate here today:
How can land access issues be addressed most effectively in post-conflict settings, such as through rapid land provision for returnees and re-building land institutions?
How can the Voluntary Guidelines on the Right to Food and the proposed Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Tenure be efficiently used to address the new tenure challenges of large scale land acquisitions, and other pressures related to conflict, security, climate change, migration and poverty?
How to ensure consistency between different principles and guidelines, in particular how are the Voluntary Guidelines going to relate to the proposed principles on Responsible Investments in Agriculture being developed by UNCTAD, FAO, IFAD and the World Bank?
How to ensure consistency between the Voluntary Guidelines and regional frameworks and guidelines such as the Africa Land Policy Framework and Guidelines Initiative?
I would like to thank you for your kind attention.