The FAO Voluntary Guidelines: setting sail?

Regional discussions: what do States make of the guidelines?

On 12–14 February 2013, FAO brought together 78 professionals from Anglophone countries to a Technical Awareness Raising Workshop on the Voluntary Guidelines in Kigali, Rwanda. This was the second of 10 similar regional events planned by the FAO. The invitees were largely from government related departments (land, fisheries and forestry) and representatives from NGOs, farmers associations and land alliances of participating countries.

The general aims of the Voluntary Guidelines are to achieve food security for all and support sustainable efforts towards eradication of hunger and poverty. They are also meant to secure sustainable wellbeing, environmental protection and socio-economic development. The VGs are intended to act as a reference for improving the governance of land, fisheries and forest tenure around the globe.

In particular, the VGs address the issue of land. The Guidelines stress the need to have equal access to land, fisheries and forests among men and women, and the upholding of customary land rights, including the rights of minority groups. They aim to improve the weak governance system which marginalizes the poor, who often lose out due to the lack of political support necessary to influence decision-making processes.

Some states are recognizing the importance of these guidelines. Officiating at the FAO workshop in Kigali, Rwanda’s Minister for Natural Resources Hon. Stanislaus Kamazi stressed the need to have a strong participation in the implementation and monitoring of the VG in each participating State. He described Rwanda’s thorough land tenure reforms and progressive issuance of leasehold titles across the country. A participant from Zambia also underlined his country’s commitment to have transparent discussions and include land in the process of writing the new constitution.  The Regional Representative for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa said that there is a clear consensus that land and land-based resources are of great importance to any country. The backward and forward linkages throughout the economic sectors are crucial to sustainable development.

Ways forward: the role of research

In principle, the implementation of these guidelines lies in the heart of each Member State. However, each institution, whether an NGO, research institution and/or land rights organization, has a right to monitor and advocate for the implementation of the very guidelines which many of these organizations participated in crafting.

For example, my organisation – PLAAS – participated in the formulation and deliberation of these guidelines. As such, PLAAS has a role to play in monitoring the implementation of VG in different areas where it works.  Its strategy involves working with research project partners in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Currently, PLAAS is working with professionals from universities and NGOS in Malawi, Zambia, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Kenya to undertake studies on Commercialization of Land, and Land Grabbing, assessing the Implication for Land Rights and Livelihoods in Southern Africa. In each country, we are looking at how land deals are negotiated and implemented, and the possible impacts on different actors. The research seeks to identify the impacts of the large-scale investments to differentiated groups such as women and small scale farms.

The Future Agriculture Consortium and PLAAS will host a workshop for the Regional/SADC Policy Makers in June to discuss the Political Economy of Agricultural Policy in Africa and strategies to implement and monitor the Voluntary Guidelines.

PLAAS will also analyze the impact of the VGs on land-based and fisheries governance initiatives in several countries where there are ongoing studies.  As an institution with long experience on land issues in southern Africa, this could be a way for PLAAS to build the capacity of the local partners to develop their knowledge on the VGs and make use of it.

Security of tenure for small-scale fisherfolk

For a number of years PLAAS has been involved in a number of research projects into the tenure-based management of fisheries: Defragmenting Resource Management in Southern Africa (DARMA), Too Big To Ignore (TBTI), Cross-sectoral Commons Governance (CROSCOG), WELFARE, and the Worldwide Fisheries Co-management project. All projects aim at finding solutions towards the vexing question of how to strengthen tenure for communities towards fish resources in order to stop and reverse the decline in fish resources so that fisheries can continue providing wealth and livelihoods for fishing communities across generations.

In South Africa, small scale fisheries were largely undermined by the fisheries legislation of 1998, which gave rights to commercial, sport and subsistence fishing only. Upset by the legislation, Civil Society Organizations and activists joined forces to have the rights of small-scale fisheries recognized and protected by law. As the result of these concerted efforts, the High Court ordered the government to protect the rights of small scale fisheries and told it to work with them to formulate a policy, which emerged in 2012.

Into the future, PLAAS and its collaborating partners may want to investigate the success, constraints and recommend ways forward for the realization of these Guidelines by studying the ongoing land registration projects in countries like Botswana, Mozambique, Rwanda and Tanzania, to understand the differentiated impacts of these projects in different groups and contexts.

Challenges of implementing the Voluntary Guidelines

There are many challenges which might hinder the smooth implementation of the Guidelines. Here are just a few of them:

  • State Sovereignty: As clearly stated, the VG are soft laws – they don’t override State Sovereignty and the existing policy, legal and institutional frameworks.  As such, it is difficult to impose them on any country that may not be willing to implement them.
  • Existing initiatives: The Voluntary Guidelines have entered a space occupied by existing guidelines, for example the Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa (developed by the African Union, African Development Bank and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa). For them to have specific influence, they must be integrated into such plans and being prioritized.
  • Private sector commitment: One of the key stakeholders in the implementation of the VGs is the private sector, from investors to private developers. This was one of the issues of concern during the Rwanda workshop mentioned above, as their participation in the discussion of policy discourse has been absent or very minimal.
  • Funding for awareness raising, implementing and monitoring the VGs: Implementing these guidelines depends on the availability of resources such as funds and personnel. They will therefore sit on the shelf like many other documents, if the partners meant to implement them have no funding to disseminate, implement and monitor them.

Voluntary Guidelines: a vital tool to inform policy

Despite these challenges, these guidelines are a great tool for policy makers, researchers and advocacy institutions to use in their work around the tenure governance of land, fisheries and forests. To help this happen, a few activities should be considered:

  • In each country, the FAO must launch this document in collaboration with the host country, in the presence of the CSOs, FBOs, and institutions dealing with land and fisheries rights, forests conservations and the research institutions such as universities. Out of this process, the country team for implementation, monitoring purposes needs to be established. CSOs dealing with the advocacy work on land tenure and rights may want to champion this process.
  • The Guidelines provide an opportunity to influence policy making processes and/or amendments to law, to address issues of concern in the current legislation governing tenure of land, fisheries and forests. They need to be incorporated into the ongoing policy reforms in many African countries. There are clear examples where countries are adopting proposals made in the guidelines. Tanzania recently has announced a ‘land ceiling’ for foreign investments and it has limited the time such land can be owned.
  • The Guidelines need to further inform discussions on pertinent issues to be included in national constitutions, particularly in countries where constitutions are being established, or where ongoing constitutional reform or review is taking place.
  • Research and advocacy institutions need to produce relevant evidence and find ways to discuss it with policy makers and politicians, for example through policy briefings.

Image: Fishing community members, Zambia from theworldfishcenter’s Flickr photostream (by-nc-nd)