Why the “UN body fails to back “land grabs” code of conduct”

This morning I was sent an article released by Reuters with a headline that read: “UN body fails to back “land grabs” code of conduct“.  Having read through the article I can tell you that I am disappointed, to say the least, in the way that it represents what has happened this week at the 36th Session of the UN Committee on World Food Security.

First of all, I will conceded that there was arguably a lack of discussion at this session on the issue of large scale land investment/land grab/ land acquisition (call it what you will). And yes, the CFS is meant to be a forum for these types of discussions, but we must also remember that the renewed CFS is not restricted to annual sessions but is intended to support ON GOING discussions.

Negotiations and discussions at the Policy Roundtable concluded the following (from the Draft Final Report CFS:2010) (Note that the issues address in the Reuters article is 26:ii (in red)):

Land tenure and international investment in agriculture

26.       The Committee:

i)                  encouraged the continuation of the inclusive process for the development of the Voluntary Guidelines (Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land and Other Natural Resources – VG) building on existing regional processes with a view to submitting the guidelines for the consideration of the 37th session of CFS and decided to establish an open-ended working group of the CFS to review the first draft of the voluntary guidelines;

ii)                taking note of the ongoing process of developing Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investments that Respect Rights, Livelihoods and Resources (RAI), and, in line with its role , decided to start an inclusive process of consideration of the principles within the CFS;

iii)              urged governments and other stakeholders involved in the drafting process of both the VG and the RAI to ensure consistency and complementarity between the two processes;

iv)              requested the HLPE to undertake studies, to be presented at the 37th Session of the CFS, on the following important issues, in accordance with the CFS reform document agreed in 2009, and the Rules and Procedures for the work of the HLPE:

  • the respective roles of large-scale plantations and of small-scale farming, including economic, social, gender and environmental impacts;
  • review of the existing tools allowing the mapping of a
  • vailable land;
  • comparative analysis of tools to align large scale investments with country food security strategies

i)                  encouraged member state support for capacity building toward effectively addressing land governance.

Now, it is important to state that these recommendations were debated until 2 AM and reflect the result of negotiation, participation and consensus building (including inputs from civil society).

Yes the language around the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investments that Respect Rights, Livelihoods and Resources (RAI) is weak, but that is what we wanted.The 7 Principles make an appealing case in a persuasive way,  but there are fundamental shortcomings with the RAI initiative and the resulting principles. Several countries as well as CSOs reject the RAI and see it as a move to legitimize long-term takeover of people’s lands.

A report by FIAN, Focus on the Global South, La Via Campesina, Social Network for Justice and Human Rights, argues that the Principles are utterly indadequate as regulation of policies that violate human rights and international law.

The Principles were developed in a non-transparent way and consultation processes have been highly criticised. Furthermore, there is no process for evaluation and monitoring within the RAI and this is a matter of great concern for many countries and civil society. RAI has no way hold companies accountable:there are no accountability mechanisms or evaluation components.

After reading the Reuters article, please ask yourself why the countries where land grabbing is happening are for the most part happy with the language and fought hard to have the recommendation worded as it.

Finally, during the policy roundtable the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Oliver de Schutter, reminded members and participants there are means of investing in agriculture that do not displace people, or promote shifts in land rights ,or promote large-scale industrial monoculture. It is on the basis of these comments that I am concerned that De Schutter was misquoted in the article and I await a statement from his office to that effect.

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