Issues Home About Contact Us Issue 16 - Oct 2018 عربى
Regional Developments

Land Forum VI: Applying the Tenure Governance Guidelines

Housing and Land Rights Network - International Habitat Coalition (HIC-HLRN) has been seeking ways for civil society to take a leading role in applying the international norms for the governance of land tenure. On 25–28 October 2017, HIC-HLRN cooperated with FAO to organize the sixth round of the Land Forum in Middle East/North Africa, in Tunis, where 27 representatives of specialized human rights organizations, land and agriculture experts and social movements participated. The Forum took the form of a workshop dedicated to Application of the Voluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure for the MENA Region within the Framework of Human Rights Principles.


The regional workshop addressedinternational law background and, thus, the binding aspects of these “voluntary” guidelines for setting priorities and policies for the region on land and natural resource issues. Meanwhile, the program assessed states’ individual, collective, domestic and extraterritorial obligations in the region in light of the chronic issues calling for responsible governance of tenure. Prominent among these issues is the displacement and mass exoduses of millions of civilians in search of refuge in other areas.


Each session of the workshop included three sections corresponding with the Tenure Guidelines as they relate to civil society organizations, starting with an introduction that outlined the Guidelines’ principles and clarified the normative and operational basis for them. Discussants from among the participants provided (1) the content analysis of the various sections of the Tenure Guidelines, and then (2) applied them to experiences and situations at the local level. These presentations were followed by an open discussion to propose a systematic and empirical analysis of each of the topics identified in the workshop.


Complementing the exercise on each of the Guidelines, a FAO representative reviewed a range of achievements of the Initiative on Small Family Farming in the Near East and North Africa Countries. The Initiative, launched in 2014, the Year of Small-scale Family Farming, has played a central role in ensuring food security. This is why the governments of the region at the 33rd Session of the Regional Conference for the Near East and North Africa (2016) recognized that family farms have become a regional priority for rural poverty reduction, where 70% of poverty is concentrated at the regional level in rural areas and the fertility has declined by 45%, alongside conflicts and wars in several parts of the region that have destroyed the components of life in rural areas.


A regional program for raising people out of rural poverty and the development of sustainable agricultural practices has been established to enhance agricultural production of small-scale farms, strengthen rural regulatory capacity, improve access to services and markets, and enhance the role of rural institutions. The representative of FAO also reviewed the FAO initiative to implement the Voluntary Guidelines to enhance the legitimacy of tenure in Sudan, especially for farmers in conflict and war zones in the Darfur region, in order to ensure peace and stability in the areas to which IDPs have returned.


The workshop also reviewed the previous sessions of the Land Forum, from 2009 to 2014, as a regional platform for exchanging experiences, enhancing communication between civil society organizations concerned with land issues, related common challenges and their development of the human rights dimensions and priorities of land and natural resources, while posing alternative general solutions to tenure and other land-related problems. The previous sessions reviewed the strengthening of the role of civil society in the formulation of global policy standards and processes on land issues, particularly in conflict situations. These have included the three Regional Initiatives launched by FAO, the New Urban Agenda, the new Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.


This integrated approach complements the role of civil society, in general, in its cooperation with FAO, but also the Follow-up Committee, in particular, which is elected every two years to coordinate the cooperation with FAO in the region.


Over the course of the three days, the workshop dealt with the in-depth review of the Tenure Guidelines, in particular, general concepts and terms such as responsible governance, tenure, voluntary status, protection, rights, legal value and degree of obligation, as well as the definition of what is legitimate and what is illegal, whether to legitimize certain practices or not, and the role of custom and law in determining the legitimacy of possession. It also addressed the concept of governance and its processes, mechanisms and framework to ensure partnership and take into account the political and regulatory frameworks necessary to improve tenure governance.


The discussions emphasized that the imbalance of power among actors, particularly between official government entities and civil society organizations, as the most important constraint affecting the principle of partnership. The discussion highlighted the respect for the principle of free and prior informed consent on land management and the implementation of responsible governance of tenure, especially in the face of indigenous peoples with a cultural and social connection to land use and tenure, different from the rest of society.


The workshop also reviewed the various areas of application of the Tenure Guidelines, including the scope of application on the territory of the state, its definition and the difference between the state land and government land, and who holds the right to self-determination. Water and territorial tenure issues were also discussed, particularly in the context of the government`s tenure of fisheries in the territorial waters of the state, the privatization of water resources and the effects of climate change on the sustainability of water resources. The issues of planning and spatial justice, balanced and sustainable development between rural and urban areas, and the political commitments on the implementation of planning and spatial justice in global agendas such as the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the New Urban Agenda also were addressed.


The workshop participants identified the categories of stakeholders in the Guidelines, assessing their economic and social conditions and the challenges they face in accessing land, water and food, particularly small groups of food producers (farmers, fishers and pastoralists). They discussed role of the Guidelines in addressing their situation and enabling them to acquire and use land in a sustainable and equitable manner.


The workshop also focused on landless people and the condition of landlessness. The workshop reviewed the efforts of FAO in cooperation with civil society organizations to develop a definition of landless groups that reflects the regional context and specificity of the Middle East and North Africa region.


A special feature of the workshop addressed the importance of agroecology and its role in achieving equitable and sustainable food security, clarifying the social dimensions of the concept of agroecology, the rights of local communities and small food producers against privatization, their right to reclaim national seed assets, protect biodiversity, strengthen the solidarity economy and achieve food sovereignty, which is much more than just food security.


After reviewing the content of the Tenure Guidelines, their topics and identification of stakeholders, the workshop addressed the identification of the most important issues missing in the Guidelines, as well as the establishment of urgent steps for the strategic planning of the political commitments contained in the guidelines. In the case of the MENA region, these area and subjects that need further normative work included:

·     Responsible governance of rangelands to uphold the rights and livelihood of pastoralists,

·     The silence of the Tenure Guidelines on water resources is a shortcoming in light of the region’s priorities,

·     The Guidelines and training curricula prepared through FAO lack the indispensable legal background and the obligations of states and their governments,

·     Applying the Tenure Guidelines toward development of responsible investment in agriculture and food systems in the MENA region, including and especially intra-regional investment.


For more details on the regional workshop, please see the Land Forum VI report.

Download the Voluntary Tenure Guidelines






All rights reserved to HIC-HLRN