Sustainable development goals that relate to this topic

Investment in land has the potential to improve livelihoods and food security, increase agricultural productivity, and support broader economic growth; outcomes that can help further progress on several of the SDGs. Transparent, inclusive, and accountable land governance can help ensure sustainable and fair agriculture practices and land use. For example, good quality and accessible land information can help government agencies better understand the potential costs and benefits of resource use options, help secure land rights and tenure, and enable distribution of financial benefits from resource extraction. Moreover, consultation with those potentially affected by changes in land legislation, policies or tenure can help communities and households protect their rights.

No Poverty

End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Zero Hunger

End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

Gender Equality

Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Responsible Consumption and Production

Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Life on Land

Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

What are illustrative commitments

Illustrative Commitments

  • Introduction

    A well-functioning land sector can boost a country’s sustainable economic growth, foster social development, protect the rights of vulnerable groups and support environmental protection. However, weak governance of land and land rights has in many countries hindered the achievement of these developmental objectives.

    Land governance concerns the processes and procedures relating to the recognition, registration and enforcement of land tenure rights, land use administration, management planning and taxation, the provision of information on land holdings and mechanisms for the resolution of land disputes. Governments play a crucial role in ensuring these processes are carried out – ideally through transparent, fair and efficient processes, and that the human rights of all individuals and groups are protected. Accurate information regarding land rights is critical if governments are to make responsible decisions about how best to optimise land and natural resource access and use in order to maximise the developmental potential from their land. Improving the completeness and openness of land information data enables government agencies to better understand the  potential costs and benefits of resource use options, to secure land rights and tenure, and to enable distribution of financial benefits from resource extraction that are in accordance with law. Consultation with those potentially affected by changes in land legislation, policies or tenure can help communities and households protect their rights.

    Investment in land has the potential to improve livelihoods and food security, increase agricultural productivity, and support broader economic growth (Deininger et al, 2011). However all too often, the acquisition of large areas of land for commercial investment has had devastating socio-economic, environmental, and governance impacts (High Level Panel of Experts, 2011). Such problems are particularly accentuated in countries where customary and collective tenure rights are not recognised in law, large levels of urban informal settlements exist, or in practice, and where governance is generally weak.

    Common principles to address these challenges through recognising and securing land tenure rights have emerged. For example, The Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests in the Context of National Food Security  (VGGT) were agreed in 2012. Developing one critical pillar of the VGGTs further, the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Security were approved by the Committee for Food Security and endorsed by representatives of the private sector, governments, donor organisations, UN agencies, research institutions and academia, following a global consultation processes. The Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems are intended to provide guidelines for investors in agricultural and projects, whereas the VGGT are intended to provide guidance for governments in their land governance processes.

    The negative impacts associated with “land grabbing” (defined as ‘land acquisition in violation of human rights and environmental or social safeguards’ (International Land Coalition, 2011) remain the critical topic in the land sector (agricultural, natural resources, and urban settings). However, strengthening land rights and tenure security also depends on broader reforms and improvements in land governance.

    At the 2013 G8 summit, host country the United Kingdom stressed its commitment to promoting greater transparency, including with regard to land governance, and stated that unclear land ownership rights and weak systems for managing land creates uncertainty which stops farmers and companies wanting to invest, and in turn threatens food security and increases the likelihood of local conflicts over land.

    The basic underlying principles of the VGGTs, the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Security, when coupled with Open Data initiatives, and the opportunities for commitments and action provided by the Open Government Partnership, provide a mandate and template for reform of the land sector.


    • The Land Matrix, (last accessed June 2013)
    • Deininger, K., Byerlee, D., Lindsay, J., Norton, A., Selod, H., Stickler, M. (2011) Rising Global Interest in Farmland: Can it Yield Sustainable and Equitable Benefits. The World Bank.
    • High Level Panel of Experts (2011) Land tenure and international investments in agriculture, A report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security; Rome.
    • International Land Coalition (2011) Tirana Declaration.
    • UK Government. (2013) G8 Factsheet: Transparency,
    • Locke, A.; Henley, G. (2014) Topic Guide: Land. Evidence on Demand,
  • Expert Organisations


    This topic has been developed by Global Witness, and updated by Cadasta Foundation, with contributions and comments from Lorenzo Cottula at IIED, Michael Taylor at the International Land Coalition, Babette Wehrmann at  L.anD-Net and Chiara Selvetti at DfID.

  • Standards &
  • Examples in Practice

    British Colombia carried out participatory land use planning of its forests

    In the early 1990s, the province of British Colombia in Canada initiated major land use planning processes and revisions of its forest policies. Following a decade of intense conflict over logging, the government initiated a Strategic Land Use Planning (SLUP) process with the hopes of ending what had come to be known as the ‘War in the Woods’.

    SLUP built on several key principles, including public participation, consensus-based decision making, consideration of all resource values and resource sustainability, and the involvement of indigenous peoples. A total of 17 plans were developed in the end, covering 85% of British Columbia’s land base. While conflict over land is not fully resolved, SLUP participants, by and large, perceived the process as having been successful. One of the lessons that have been learned is that multi-stakeholder, consensus-based decision-making processes, while lengthy in time, can be beneficial as they allow for information sharing and trust building.

    Colombia has used the ‘Land Governance Assessment Framework’ as part of its efforts to strengthen land governance

    Impacted by decades of conflict between the Government and guerrillas/paramilitaries, the land tenure situation for a large proportion of the Colombian population – particularly in rural areas – has been long been fragile and insecure. As a result, Colombia has large levels of informality and fraudulent titles created across the country. Addressing these issues was identified as critical during negotiations within the peace process. In 2013, the Colombian Government performed the Land Governance Assessment Framework (LGAF) process with assistance from the World Bank. This multi-stakeholder process subsequently resulted in a detailed sectoral analysis and recommendations for strengthening land governance that the Government is now implementing incrementally in areas where security has been restored.

    In Peru public land for sale must be advertised for a minimum of 90 days

    In Peru, a land auctioning process has been in place since the 1990s and since then 235,500 ha of public land has been auctioned for nearly US$50 million.About 20 of the country’s 50 main agro-export companies have received land through these auctions.

    Where a government agency, ministry, regional or local government wishes to divest public land, the intention to divest the land is published, along with the minimum investment required and the minimum bid price for the land, in the official gazette, local and international newspapers, and a government Web site for a minimum of 90 days. Likewise, if an investor approaches the government, the evaluated proposal is published for a minimum of 90 days to allow other potential investors to present offers.

    Bids are ranked by price offered and the amount of projected investment. Each auction takes 4-5 months and data on the minimum bid value of the land, the investment commitment, and data on land size are publicly available. Business plans are also made public  Redress can be remedied if the property was expropriated. If within one year of the conclusion of the court process the  expropriated property is not used for its planned purpose, it automatically reverts to the original owner.

    Peru’s success in divesting public land through auctions is credited to the transparency of the process as well as to oversight from a high-powered and independent technical committee representing private and the public sectors.Competitive bidding for land provides a mechanism by which the host government achieves better terms and is able to extract some of the surplus created by the project, while eliminating direct negotiations between private buyers and public officials. However, the extent to which business plans incorporate community benefits, or how social and environmental concerns are considered during the awarding of investment projects, remains unclear.


    Lao PRD has produced an inventory of land concessions and leases

    As a response to rapid expansion of land deals, the government of Lao PDR presented a comprehensive publication on land concessions and leases to the public in early 2013.

    The land concession inventory is based on a government database on land investment and includes both statistical and spatially referenced data, in combination with a range of socio-economic and biophysical variables. It gives insight into key issues surrounding the land investment debate, and provides a valuable baseline for further research and informed, evidence-based policy making.

    While considerable amount of data on land concessions has previously been collected by governmental agencies, it has rarely produced information and knowledge in a suitable and easy accessible form for decision-makers and for the wider public. The inventory was the result of a trilateral cooperation between the Lao government, Switzerland, and Germany.

    Mali is reforming its policies for the agriculture sector with participation of farmers’ associations

    Mali has recently reformed its legislative and regulatory policies for the agriculture sector, resulting in the 2006 Agricultural Policy Act. The reform process relied heavily on the participation of farmers’ associations.

    The Mali Government gave the National Coordination of Farmer Organisations the responsibility and budget to hold consultations to canvass farmers’ and other stakeholders’ viewpoints. These suggestions were then used to develop the first draft policies and legislation. Various concerns raised by farmers’ organisations, such as public participation in the monitoring of access to water and grievance mechanisms, and a policy favouring family farming and the right to food were included in the legislation.

    During this legislative process, discussions on land issues were so numerous that the treatment of this issue had to be postponed. The participatory process which had been used to formulate the agricultural policy has continued to be used also in developing a new agricultural land policy. The Mali Government has adopted a roadmap to implement a participatory process, and has established a steering committee for this process, which includes farmers’ organisations and civil society.

    New Zealand allows free online access to land information

    Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) is the government agency responsible for all national land information, including land titles, survey data, topographic and hydrographic information and all crown lands. All registry and cadaster data is maintained electronically, and land information can be searched in real time online, in addition to allowing for the update of title and survey data. Data is freely available and can be used under Creative Comments Attribution 3.0 license, with the exception of property details containing personal information, though this can be accessed via a more restricted use license.

    Rwanda has embarked on an extensive land tenure reform

    Having one of the highest population pressures on land in the world with 90 per cent of the population reliant on agriculture and an average family farm size of half a hectare, the government of Rwanda introduced the Land Tenure Regularization Programme in 2007. Among other things, the programme requires mandatory registration of all land holdings and formalization of ownership through land titles. The programme began implementation in 2009 and by March 2014 all 10.3 million parcels had been registered.

    Tanzania commits to making land data publicly available online

    Land governance has been a focus area of Tanzania’s Open Government Partnership National Action Plans. In its first  National Action Plan, drafted in 2012, the Government cited a number of measures being put in place to enhance citizen participation in day to day operations. One of these measures was the open and transparent system of village land allocation, requiring the Village Assembly (which constitutes of all villagers above 18 years) to pass a resolution to allocate Village Land to an individual or a firm that has submitted land request to the Village Government. According to the Village Land Act from 1999, Village Leaders have no mandate whatsoever to allocate land. Gender sensitive village and ward tribunals have been established to handle land disputes.

    In the country’s second National Action Plan, drafted in 2014, Tanzania committed to “Make land use plan, ownership and demarcated areas for large scale land deals accessible online for public use by June, 2016.”

    The Land Registry for England and Wales has opened up its public data for free use and re-use

    As part of the UK Government’s commitment to data transparency, the Land Registry for England and Wales has made the ‘price paid’ and ‘transactions’ datasets available for use and re-use under the Open Government Licence. Price Transaction data is available from December 2011 in csv and linked data. Monthly price paid data is available from 2012 in txt, csv and linked data, and historic price paid data is available from January 2009 in csv and linked data.

    The Philippines uses the VGGT to define long term land priorities

    In the Philippines, a number of new land laws have been introduced since 2009, including the Residential Free Patent Act ,which have led to a massive increase in titles issued. However, capacity within government land agencies remains a challenge. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has developed a land sector development framework with a 20-year implementation timeline and identified entry points for main-streaming the Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT) through a study done by a civil society group. Furthermore, the centralised land titling approach has been replaced by a systematic approach with local government which makes the whole process of titling faster (10-15 years instead of another 50-100 years for the remaining untitled lands).