Secure access to and control of land and land-based resources is absolutely critical to agricultural development, economic growth, food security, and women's economic empowerment.
The United States has been at the forefront of efforts to improve the governance of land rights and access for several years, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
Important strides in land tenure governance were made last week when the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests met at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome. This meeting was convened to fine-tune the language for a global agreement on voluntary guidelines regarding land use and property rights for adoption in October 2011. This has been no small task for a multifaceted and multilateral group.
Thanks to the committed work of Dr. Gregory Myers, the USAID senior advisor for Land Tenure and Property who is the chair of the OEWG, the United States has had a leadership role in this process, assisting the global community in moving discussion forward in a clear and steady fashion, encouraging inclusiveness and transparency, and demonstrating the U.S. Government's (USG) commitment to leading fair and open negotiations to create these guidelines.
The building of these guidelines - the first project of its kind overseen from beginning to conclusion by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) -- has also served to demonstrate that this Committee can be a viable body for addressing key issues and producing substantive outcomes related to global food security.
Under the aegis of the CFS in the FAO, in a comprehensive process that over the past two and a half years has involved dozens of consultation meetings of CFS member states, civil society organizations, and stakeholders, we are gradually building a formidable framework for addressing land tenure challenges across the globe.
This meeting represented the first step, as CFS members and stakeholders work through their understandable differences to reach a consensus on the global guidelines for land tenure language. With the leadership of Dr. Jolyne Sanjak of MCC and of Dr. Myers, various U.S. agencies signed on to the common language required to ensure a successful “whole of government” stance on land tenure and property rights issues.
In recognition of the importance of these issues to securing sustainable economic development, to date, USAID has invested nearly $184 million in land tenure/property rights programs in many developing countries. The MCC has invested a further $249 million in property rights and land policy reforms through on-going grants. The United States has supported programs to promote property rights, including those that develop adequate policy and legal regimes, build capacity of implementing agencies, record registering and titling of land rights through land titles or other appropriate documents, and promote dispute resolution and the development of land markets. These efforts help stimulate investment and productivity, reduce civil conflict, and promote access to credit for small and large landholders.
Let me give you an example of exactly what we are doing in Ethiopia, where USAID is assisting the Ethiopia Land Administration in reforming national and regional land laws. This investment supports identification of smallholder's property titles and rights, while strengthening the ability of regional governments to register property titles. Simultaneously, USAID provides training for Ethiopian lawyers and judges in land law and land dispute resolution.
Thanks to this program, more than 700,000 parcels of land have been registered to the benefit of more than 147,000 households. Studies have shown that land certification increases land tenure security resulting in increased investment by smallholders in soil and water conservation and in production of crops. This in turn increases income for households -- and especially improves income for women farmers. It has also improved land markets, leading to more frequent land leases among smallholders, and has greatly reduced conflicts over land. In short, people need secure access to land -- they need to know that the land they are farming is theirs and cannot be taken from them arbitrarily - in order to make that land productive.
During his remarks at the OEWG meeting in Rome, Dr. Myers pointed out that it is particularly important to ensure land rights for women. Dr. Myers said, “Women, who frequently have fewer rights than men, have greater challenges gaining access to productive resources and are more often victims of resource grabbing.”
Dr. Myers also quoted a recent study by the International Development Law Organization (ILDO) (stating, “(if) secure access to natural resources is a pre-requisite for women's active participation, then articulating well-defined property rights that enhance women's capacity to contribute to the national economy is essential for economic development. Access to land facilitates women's bargaining power within their household… (and) women's right to have control over land and what it produces diminishes the household's risk of poverty; (it) increases agricultural productivity because they can be more secure that their investment in the land will be returned; is necessary for justice for them.”
Speaking from years of personal experience in the field, Dr. Myers told his audience at the opening of the meetings: “In every country, community, and household I have visited there is universal agreement in this proposition -- that without secure property rights and vibrant markets, individuals, families, communities, associations and corporations cannot or will not invest in their own dreams and aspirations -- they cannot be the masters of their own destinies.”
The OEWG has now heard the concerns and questions of members regarding the language of the First Draft of the Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests. These guidelines clearly address crucial issues, and we are looking forward to continuing fruitful discussions in July and obtaining full approval of the guidelines in October.