FAO Expert Meeting on the Voluntary Guidelines in Academia

Last week I attended an FAO Expert Meeting on the “Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security” (VGs)and their incorporation into academia. Said otherwise, the meeting sought to address ways in which the VGs could be incorporated into various curricula at the undergraduate and graduate level, and within professional training and life-long learning processes.

I was interested in this process as a research student but was attending more in my capacity as teacher in the Department of Food Systems, Culture and Society, UOC.

The meeting was hosted by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). Their expertise on valuation was useful, especially their definition of “fair valuation” which elaborates on and adds value to the term as it is presented in the VGs.

There was agreement in the room of the importance of incorporating the VGs, and more specifically the principles of good governance of land, forests and fisheries, into relevant academic programmes and to feed into other training programmes. For example, the group seemed to agree on importance of free, prior and informed consent, introduced in section 9, should be taught and extended to all populations, and not just to indigenous peoples as it currently stands in the VGs.

Another key concern, with respect to incorporating the VGs into teach programmes, was the consideration of how to ensure that professional (current and future) have the skills and knowledge to react appropriately the implementation of the guidelines, and perhaps more importantly, to act appropriately when engaging in activities that fall under the scope of the VGs.

A knowledge gap was identified between the VGs and national land tenure systems.  There is a need to identify systems of land tenure, overlaps between these systems and to identify the layers and hierarchy of these systems. Within this, there is a need to identify conflict, link the tenure rights to a human rights framework, and link to other laws and frameworks: inheritance law, for example.  The analysis has to be contextualized.

A central value of the VGs that translates to professionals is the notion of understanding or being aware of the consequences of your actions. The VGs are really about good governance.

There was agreement, broadly, that our goal as academics introducing the VGs to our students, was to ensure that through our courses, students become change agents and change the system.

In terms of how best to integrate the principles of the VGs into courses, it was agreed that case studies are the most appropriate tool.  Case studies identify problems and then students can use the VGs as a tool or mechanism for identifying problems and determining solutions. From here, students can develop action plans.

There are many ways to teach these issues, which extend to role play, socio-drama, where all actors (including forests and the water) are played by students. The cases can also be read aloud and dissected and analysed sentence by sentence.

There was agreement on the need for good translations of texts and for them to be interpreted into, at least, the regional context. The need to have accreditation associated with the courses into which the VGs are introduced, is key. The accreditation can take many forms, as can the certification provided to the students.

The meeting ended with a commitment to start a network and to start building resources that can be shared openly and used in our classrooms. I for one am going to restructure my course Contemporary Issues in Food Studies around land and use the VGs as a tool for analysis.

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