Right to Food’s Access to land report

by UN Special Rapporteur Olivier de Schutter, for the 65th session of the General Assembly, Third Committee Item 69(b), 21 October 2010 New York

Published on Food Crisis and the Global Land Grab, 17 Jan 2011. – Download the report, 11 August 2010, A/65/281, 22 pdf-pages.

Mr. Chairperson, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Two years ago, when I first spoke before this Committee to present my programme of work, I indicated that I would address the relationship of security of land tenure and access to land to the right to adequate food (A/63/278, paras. 33-37; see also A/57/356, paras. 24 and 30) … //

… The overall picture that emerges from this empirical evidence is impressive. What we are witnessing is a situation in which pressures on land and water are increasing at an unprecedented speed. Each year, up to 30 million hectares of farmland are lost due to environmental degradation, conversion to industrial use or urbanization.

This trend has been exacerbated by the increased competition between food and energy crops and, especially since a couple of years, speculation on farmland by private investors. Certain measures adopted to mitigate climate change, under the Clean Development Mechanism or under the REDD scheme (for Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation or Forest Degradation), may also affect access to land for certain populations, particularly forest-dwelling groups, including indigenous peoples. The consequences for millions of farmers, fishermen and indigenous people are in many cases dramatic.

I have been closely monitoring this issue over the past months. In an addendum to the report I presented in March 2010 to the Human Rights Council, I listed a set of eleven Principles that are based on human rights and that are relevant for large-scale investments in land, which are one major source of these increasing pressures on land (see A/HRC/13/33/Add.2). These Principles are a restatement of existing human rights obligations. In that sense, they are a set of best practices recommended to States who wish to better comply with their human rights obligations, and it is my hope that human rights monitoring bodies, particularly the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, will seek inspiration from the Principles I put forward to monitor more closely what is currently developing.

The report before you examines what should be done in order to ensure that these pressures on land do not have negative impacts on the enjoyment of the right to food. Rural populations grow. Competition with large industrial units is increasing. The plots cultivated by smallholders are shrinking year after year. Farmers are often relegated to soils that are less fertile – that are arid, hilly or without irrigation. This poses a direct threat to the right to food of rural populations.

Security of tenure is therefore key to protecting the rights of land users. But such security of tenure should not necessarily take the form of titling schemes that transpose the Western concept of property rights in developing regions. In the past, titling schemes have frequently been captured by local elites, and sometimes access to titling has been unaffordable for the poorest, or has confirmed existing inequalities. Where titling leads to the creation of a market for land rights, it sometimes results, in time, in more land concentration: the land is appropriated neither by those who need it most nor by those who could use it most productively, but by those who can afford to buy it; and unless they are sufficiently supported, small producers risk losing the land on which they depend if they use it as a collateral to obtain credit and become heavily indebted …//

… Last week, I took part in the 36th annual session of the Committee of World Food Security (CFS) in Rome, the first session of the CFS since it was reformed in November 2009, following the need to improve global governance of food security after the global food price crisis.

The question of the protection of the rights of land users was one important part of the discussions held during the session. Indeed, I had the honour of chairing the policy roundtable that was held on that theme. The CFS encouraged the continuation of the inclusive process of development of Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land and Other Natural Resources, a process launched already through inclusive consultations in different regions of the world. It is my hope that the report that is before you shall inform this process and, that in time, the links between access to land and the realization of the right to food, for those who depend on the land for their livelihoods, will be fully recognized. (full text).

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