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.