The tradeoffs of indigenous and community land right promotion

“All this is a long-term process, but we keep having the commitment and look forward that the guidelines will definitely help to improve the land access of indigenous people”.

It is in these terms that Mrs. Marcela Villarreal, Director of Partnerships, Advocacy and Capacity Development – ‎(FAO) concluded her intervention at the CFS44 side event “Are the Voluntary Guidelines on the responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGTs) Strengthening Indigenous and Community Land Rights?”.

The panel organized by Land Rights Now, FAO and the International Land Coalition at CFS44 on field experiences in the implementation of the VGGTs was a vivid debate bringing scientific evidence of academics, hard facts presented by civil society organizations and political arguments of institutional delegates on land governance issues. One could feel the tension in the air.

From Panama to Brazil through Guatemala, Colombia and Paraguay, the experiences made in trying to implement the VGGTs in Latin America reflect the challenges of even stronger territorialization, exclusion from land and criminalization of indigenous people. The pursuit of short-term economic and political objectives of powerful groups of investors tends to conflict with the spirit of the VGGTs.

In some countries, innovation in palm oil production appears to have resulted in a strong influx of new actors in rural areas. Commercial land transactions continue to override the land rights of indigenous people. Concentration of land ownership in fewer hands, for monocultures and industrial crops, gives less and less space for the biodiverse cropping practiced by small-scale farmers, even to the point of their being evicted from the land. The large amount of water used by owners of oil palm plantations has reportedly diminished the local communities’ access to water.

In Guatemala, the decreased access to water for small-scale farmers caused local turmoil. A total of 1,377 land conflicts have recently been recorded in Guatemala, according to the presentation by Helmet Velasquez from the Coordinación de Oenegés y Cooperativas (CONGCOOP). The situation is similar in Paraguay, where farmers struggled to protect their right of access to land, according to the presentation by Saul Vicente from the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC).

In Brazil, territorialization by sugarcane and soybean farms led to the displacement of several indigenous communities from their lands. Also some local and national governments are party to this: They regard the high-altitude plateaus used by some indigenous communities for cropping and livestock-keeping as being “unoccupied” land that can be made available to investors. According to the presenters, the current overall trend in the country is that cropped areas are increasing, but productivity is decreasing. Rural lands are being “invaded” by new actors, land prices are going up, and agricultural commodity prices are dropping, making land itself an important source of cash for many.

Yet in this context, policymakers still talk about successful reforms and the protection of the rights of indigenous people through following the VGGTs. According to the Brazilian federal government representative, VGGTs are largely taken into account in land reforms implemented in his country to avoid land speculation and land concentration, and to promote sustainable production by smallholder farmers. He also emphasized the cooperation of his government with FAO, which allows the investment of more than $US 3 billion to implement good land reform and secure indigenous land rights.

The contrasting discourse raises many questions.

This situation in Latin America reminded me of the experiences in my part of the world: The cases of land eviction faced by several pastoralist groups in the Greater Horn of Africa. In the name of tourism promotion and natural resource conservation, pastoralists are often dispossessed of their ancestral lands, making their livelihoods increasingly precarious.

In West Africa, Benin pastoralists have to cope with the increasing use of “modern” herbicides by crop farms, which pollute their grazing areas and water resources. Commoditization of forage trees, often exported abroad, and land reforms that ignore mobile peoples add to the trouble of pastoralists, who are often forced to take refuge in other countries after losing all or part of their herds. This vicious circle of marginality, vulnerability and poverty is a huge challenge to achieving food security.

In such challenging contexts, networks such as Prolinnova struggle to promote local innovation to achieve food and nutrition security in rural areas. “Zero hunger” in the world can be achieved only if we assist local innovators to link their knowledge and skills in a collaborative dynamic with other supporting actors such as scientists and extension workers. But local communities, vulnerable groups (such as pastoralists) and women must have a minimum of guaranteed rights to use land if they are to develop their initiatives to improve their farming systems and livelihoods.

International institutions such as FAO need to further encourage their government partners to take more account of the VGGTs. This could help secure the rights of indigenous people and smallholder farmers. The interests of local communities must be highlighted and they must be consulted beforehand in land reforms and all forms of privatization targeting their lands. A place must be given to agriculture that is inclusive, resilient and sustainable for achieving global food security.

This blogpost covers the CFS44 side event “Are the Voluntary Guidelines on the responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGTs) Strengthening Indigenous and Community Land Rights?”

Blogpost by Georges Djohy, #CFS44 Social Reporter – gdjohy(at)gmail.com
Photo Credit: evastupica on pixabay

This post is part of the live coverage during the 44th Session of the Committee on World Food Security, a social media project supported by GFAR. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only


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