Global U.N.-backed land use guidelines approved
Published: 12 May 2012
Posted in:  FAO
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Reuters | 12 May 2012
A spike in food prices in 2007-2008 sparked a wave of land deals as food-importing countries and big agricultural businesses sought to guarantee their supplies and protect themselves from price volatility. (Reuters)

The world’s governments approved new guidelines for rules on land use on Friday to protect the poor and fight hunger, but aid groups said they were too weak to stop large-scale land grabs by big business in underdeveloped countries.

The U.N.-backed guidelines have been in the works for three years, driven by concerns that countries such as China and Gulf Arab states and private investors are buying land in Africa and Asia to secure resources at the expense of local people.

“What is missing the most in terms of land grabbing is a clear condemnation of this practice. That was one of the baseline demands of civil society,” Stephane Parmentier from aid agency Oxfam told Reuters.
“It was impossible to include it, because it was too sensitive and too controversial for quite a lot of member states.”

The voluntary code of conduct promotes equal rights for women in securing title to land and says states should ensure poor people have access to transparent record-keeping and legal help during land disputes.

“It’s a starting point that will help improve the often dire situation of the hungry and poor,” the head of the U.N’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Jose Graziano da Silva, said at a news conference in Rome.
He said the guidelines should prompt revisions of national and international law.

Aid groups said the text would be a useful benchmark for campaigning on behalf of rural communities but was too weak to protect small farmers’ rights during large-scale land acquisitions.

A spike in food prices in 2007-2008 sparked a wave of land deals as food-importing countries and big agricultural businesses sought to guarantee their supplies and protect themselves from price volatility.

Ninety six countries worked with non-governmental groups, the U.N. and private sector bodies to come up with the guidelines.

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BBC | 11 May 2012

UN adopts historic 'land grab' guidelines

The United Nations has adopted global guidelines for rich countries buying land in developing nations.

The voluntary rules call on governments to protect the rights of indigenous peoples who use the land.

It is estimated that 200m hectares, an area eight times the size of Britain, has been bought or leased over the past decade, much of it in Africa and Asia.

But aid agencies warn it will be very difficult to ensure the guidelines are implemented everywhere.

AFP quoted Clara Jamart from Oxfam as saying this was just a first step and urging caution.

"Governments have no obligation to apply these measures," she said.

There has been growing concern about so-called land grabs, when foreign governments or companies buy large areas of land to farm.

In Africa countries such as Ethiopia, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone have all signed major land deals with foreign investors.

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It is hoped this new agreement will secure access to land, fisheries and forests for millions of poor people who have historically used the land.

The document took three years to draw up and calls on governments to be transparent about land deals, consult local communities and defend women's rights to own land.

It also emphasises the responsibility of businesses and multinational corporations to respect human rights when they move in to an area.

Problems can arise because in many parts of Africa local farmers, herders and gatherers do not have any formal documents for the land they use, which is often owned by the state.

Authorities often argue that big international deals bring investment and new technology to a region, benefiting local people.

But this is not always the reality and human rights organisations have highlighted cases where tens of thousands of people have been forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands to make way for foreign investors.
Source:Reuters