Toward FAO’s Near East/North Africa Regional Conference
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) holds regional conferences every two years where ministers of agriculture and high officials of Member States from the same geographic region, meet to elaborate, beyond the borders of the individual countries, on challenges and priority matters related to food and agriculture. These conferences promoting regional coherence on global policies and political issues.
Civil society always holds a preparatory session before the conferences to discuss core points that are up for discussion, although they lack a strong role within these conferences. However, with the new agreement between the FAO and the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC)—which includes HIC, representing the urban constituency—states that “FAO accepts and promotes the principles of civil society autonomy and self-organization and will apply them in all of its relations with civil society organizations and social movements.” FAO has shown motivation to have more meaningful inclusion of civil society and social movements, particularly at the regional level. Looking toward to the next FAO Near East and North Africa Regional Conference to be held in Beirut, February 2016, poses an opportunity for full and meaningful civil society participation across the region.
The Near East and North Africa regional office of FAO covers all Arab-speaking countries and territories, but also includes Iran. At the previous Near East Regional Conference (NERC) held in February 2014, in Rome,governments pledged to enhance cooperation on the critical issues of water management, food waste and building more resilient rural communities, including support for small-scale food producers. The NERC is an opportunity for civil society to hold governments accountable to these commitments, and to pursue FAO ass a partner for the necessary technical input needed to achieve these common goals.
How Does Civil Society View These Issues?
The 2014 MENA Land Forum organized by HIC-HLRN held in Tunisia sought to articulate civil society priorities in the MENA region and to find entry points in international processes, in particular those within the FAO mechanisms and the World Bank. The Forum participants, coming from seven different countries and territories across the region, called for help in building greater capacity in applying the Tenure Guidelines, agro-ecological and sustainable approaches for land use and food production, sustainable and people-centered water-management techniques, real climate change mitigation, and better support for agricultural cooperatives and solidarity economy. These needs are complimentary to the FAO regional priorities, and should be reflected in FAO programming and Member State support.
Small-scale Food Producers
Over 90% of all farms in the world are “small” family-centered farms, covering an area ranging from less than one hectare to ten hectares. Taken together, they control less than a quarter of the world’s agricultural land, yet they are the most productive and the largest food producers; they produce up to 80% of food in poor countries. In the MENA region, many small-scale food producers suffer from difficulties in accessing secure tenure on their lands, credit and other inputs, which begs for clarity and coherence in tenure policies and land governance across the region.
The CFS Tenure Guidelines encourage legal recognition of customary and traditional land use, and full consultation with small-scale food producers in development projects or investments that affect them. This principle is known as free prior and informed consent (FPIC). Achieving these ends requires strategies for creating dialogue between state authorities and food producers directly, as recommended in paragraph 26.2 of the Tenure Guidelines. Such norm-based dialogue is critical also to creating balanced policies and greater empowerment of local, small-scale producers to access resources, agricultural inputs, infrastructure and markets.
Arid Environments/land and Water
The governance of water (for agriculture and consumption, other than for fishing use) is not explicitly included in the Tenure Guidelines, although the preface to the principles acknowledges that “responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests is inextricably linked with access to and management of other natural resources, such as water and mineral resource.” Their Principles of implementation: Holistic and sustainable approach (para. 3B.5) acknowledges the link between land tenure and the management of water resources.
It is important that the Tenure Guidelines are adapted to the MENA regional priority issue of water scarcity. In a region where many countries are reclaiming desert lands for investments (urbanization, agricultural production for export) and/or national food security, sustainable development with sufficient support small-scale food producers—in particular, the landless—remains a high priority. Producers and related CSOs in the MENA region need technical skills to cope with rapid desertification, climate-change threats and apply best practices to optimize limited water resources. FAO and Member States should be attentive to producer needs and promote learning and agroecology from traditional and indigenous practices, which usually works sustainably with the environment, not just on the environment, consistent with the Tenure Guidelines.
Challenges of Resilience: Conflict, Occupation and War
Resilience of small-scale food producers and rural communities remains a challenge globally. The ecological factors such as limited arable land and water resources, as well as urban encroachment, further put communities at risk of shocks in economic crises or weather/environmental events. However, the fluid and often violent political context of the region, manifesting in conflict, occupation and war, creates further challenges to building resilience. The pursuit of resilience in the MENA region also raises practical and normative issues to inform the concept and its application, including its relationship to accountability of actors responsible for the shocks and hazards that necessitate resilience.
Several countries in the region are in transition and/or periods of insecurity, challenging local producers and CSOs to respond with both preventive and remedial effect. This context takes regional cases into consideration in which land governance and tenure are at the center of both causes and solutions to conflict. The recently completed Framework for Food Security and Nutrition in Protracted Crisesoffers important guidance on these issues, and its implementation is a priority for civil society in the region, and must be a topic of discussion during the 2016 NERC.
Looking toward the NERC, many opportunities remain for CSOs to engage in, and prepare inputs to this process. This includes the UN-wide Committee on Global Food Security (CFS). HIC-MENA Members will continue to work together, and with other CSOs in the region as we continue to prepare for this important meeting.
Please continue to watch the HIC-HLRNwebsite and Land Times for updates!
[EM1]Link to the definition in this edition of LT