#10 hunger
Annalisa Mauro

Only What is Known Can Be Governed

Millions of people worldwide see their land rights ignored and neglected. But there has been increasing recognition by governments of the diverse ways in which land is used, and in many places, more participatory land policies are underway.

For rural people, land is central to their survival. Land is home, it is work, but above all: it is food. But globally driven and domestic land deals are putting more pressure on people who are dependent on land. Since late 2007, there has been growing alarm at the dynamics of land concentration and land use change happening with unprecedented speed and scope, and with enormous potential impact on rural livelihoods.

"For rural people, land is central to their survival. Land is home, it is work, but above all: it is food."

People without formal land property – farmers, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, forest dwellers and fisher folks – are facing more and more challenges to keeping the land they have been using and living on for centuries because they do not have formal land titles and their tenure rights are not protected by their own governments. All these groups are food producers and custodians of the environment. They, both women and men, don't have the power to confront large-scale investments or extractive industries. In losing their land, they also lose their right to be citizens.

But people are reacting to such pressures: by getting organised to defend their rights, by resisting, building alliances and multi-level networks, and promoting policies to counteract their invisibility. People are getting more organised in order to generate policy changes or contribute to the development of new policies.

Today, from the local to the global level, more people are asking to be included in the process of decision-making affecting their territories. Land governance is increasingly becoming a multi-stakeholder process where different interests are negotiated. The state is now learning how to properly and effectively interact with non-state actors. While power asymmetries were previously ignored, they are now increasingly being addressed in national and global debates.

"New policies of comprehensive land reform can democratise rural societies."

And new policies of comprehensive land reform could indeed change matters. They can democratise rural societies, as an example from Peru shows. In Peru, land reform has created widespread changes, incorporating millions of people into society as citizens, and eliminating rural feudal and slave-like living conditions[1]. While development projects, for instance, usually only target a specific group of beneficiaries, state policies seek to address citizens' needs through widespread changes.

But changing policy also presents complex challenges. For as noted by Harry Jones, any "policy change is a highly complex process, shaped by a multitude of interacting forces and actors"[2].

Changing policies

Land governance is, at its best, a multi-stakeholder effort. Over the past decade there has been increasing recognition by governments of the diverse ways in which land is used. As a result, some recent land policies and laws have been more accommodating of the often pluralistic nature of tenure systems.

"Land is no longer merely a national concern; it is now a global one."

This change in mind-set has, in some countries, been enabled by a shift towards the decentralisation of land governance, enabling land and natural resources rights to be defined at local levels. In many contexts, increasingly active civil society organisations working on land issues have created stronger demand for having different perspectives and priorities be reflected in land policy formulation and implementation. The increasing 'democratisation' of land tenure and management requires that a wider variety of interest groups are able to collect and access information on land governance, which they can then use to support their efforts.

Land is no longer merely a national concern; it is now a global one. In fact, the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests[3] were adopted on 11 May 2012 by the Committee on Food Security and highlight the global urgency of dealing with the issue of land governance.

What is meant by the word 'responsible' here? The Voluntary Guidelines seek "to improve governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests. They seek to do so for the benefit of all, with an emphasis on vulnerable and marginalized people, with the goals of food security and progressive realization of the right to adequate food, poverty eradication, sustainable livelihoods, social stability, housing security, rural development, environmental protection and sustainable social and economic development" (article 1.1).

Land should now therefore be governed in a more responsible manner and for collective benefit. To move in this direction, new land policies and laws need to be developed in a way that engages citizens from the very beginning.

Data difficulties

Only what is known can be governed. But while the collection and availability of land governance data is improving, data is patchy at best, and in many important areas largely absent.

"Data is patchy at best, and in many important areas largely absent."

Land governance data can be categorised according to inputs, processes, outputs, outcomes, and impacts. These categories translate roughly into: laws and policies; administration and implementation processes; outputs such as land registries and rates of title possession; outcomes such as rates of landlessness and conflict; and impacts on factors such as poverty. These distinctions are important because while there is an increasing focus and effort directed at monitoring administration processes and outputs, there is also a severe lack of available data on outcomes that would allow a better analysis of the impacts of land governance policies, and also on the particular outcomes for women and for groups that do not access land through formal property systems.

Collecting data in Nepal

In Nepal, the Community Self-Reliance Centre (CSRC), a national non-profit organisation and supporter of the national Land Forum, undertook a monitoring initiative based on Land Reform Monitoring Indicators with the methodological support of Land Watch Asia[4]. The indicators were classified at different levels.

  • Input indicators: legal framework, budget share and allocation, endorsement of international conventions
  • Process indicators: institutional capacity, stakeholder involvement, policy process
  • Output indicators: land area and use, land distribution, ownership rights on land resources, land disputes and conflicts, land fragmentation, land markets and land grabbing, and displacement
  • Outcome indicators: changes in land holdings and landlessness, changes in land use, rural-urban mobility
  • Impact indicators: food security, poverty reduction and livelihood standards, agricultural production and productivity.

The categorization of indicators listed above could be improved. Nevertheless all indicators evidenced severe data gaps. The lack of data on some indicators, such as disputes and conflicts, has prompted the CRSC to develop a system for data collection on those topics.

"Rural families are forced to give their youngest daughter to work as a Kamlari, a domestic servant for a landowner, in order to be allowed access to a piece of land."

Land is at the core of rural poverty in Nepal because of the limitations on available land, social structure, population dynamics and gender inequality. In many cases, rural families are forced to give their youngest daughter to work as a Kamlari, a domestic servant for a landowner, in order to be allowed access to a piece of land to produce food for the rest of the family. This is not too far removed from the feudal conditions that prevailed in rural areas of Peru before agrarian reform.

In Nepal there is now considerable political will for change, even if the political process has not yet resulted in a coherent pro-poor land framework. An organised civil society is at the forefront of demands for change. But institutions are still too weak to effectively perform responsible land governance.

The unavailability of government data highlights the weakness of governmental institutions and the impossibility of putting effective land policies into place. The land monitoring assessment conducted by the CSRC in Nepal clearly demonstrates the lack of data and therefore the limitations of the land institutions currently charged with governing land.

International Land Coalition and Land Reporting Initiative

As a global coalition that includes members that run the gamut from local grassroots organizations to United Nations agencies, international financial institutions and international organizations, the International Land Coalition creates and benefits from unique opportunities to engage in dialogue on land issues. This engagement strengthens the ability of civil society voices to be heard on land issues at international, national and local levels. It creates opportunities for members with varied access to political and economic power and differing views to engage with each other and discuss the role of land access security in the lives of poor men and women. These roles are enabled to a large degree by the assessment and monitoring of international, regional and national agreements, and land policies and laws.

The Land Reporting Initiative (LRI) is an ILC initiative that supports and builds on the work of ILC member organisations, such as the CSRC, to monitor land issues and trends. It also seeks to facilitate collaboration between civil society and inter-governmental organisations to promote better monitoring of land issues to ensure impact on poverty reduction. Among others, some of the Land Reporting Initiative activities include both the Land Portal, an easy access, dynamic, decentralised and participatory tool for aggregating and sharing land-governance related information and facilitating networking among land-concerned individuals and organisations, and Land Watch and Observatories, which provides support for the multi-stakeholder monitoring of land issues – such as indicators in Asia, observatories in Latin America and scorecards in Africa – to catalyse inclusive multi-stakeholder dialogue on land governance issues at the national and regional levels.

The central goal of the Land Reporting Initiative is to make sure that evidence is gathered on the land access and tenure security situations of poor and vulnerable groups, and to make sure that this evidence has an impact on policy development and implementation, thus ultimately supporting reforms.


[1] Fernando Eguren, 2006: Reforma Agraria y Desarrollo Rural en la Región Andina. Editor CEPES Peru.

[2] Harry Jones, 2011: A guide to monitoring and evaluating policy influence. ODI Background Note.

[3] FAO, 2012: The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests. www.fao.org/docrep/016/i2801e/i2801e.pdf

[4] CSRC, 2012: Land Reform Monitoring Indicators, Nepal: www.csrcnepal.org/CSRC%20_Ebulliten/CSO%20Land%20Reform%20Monitoring%20indicators%20Final%20February%202012.pdf

Related Articles

A Global Thirst

How water is driving foreign investment in farmland.

» more

Cracking Down on Speculation

How speculation on food commodities raises food prices in developing countries.

» more