The Committee on World Food Security and the Voluntary Guidelines

Photo By: USAID
Opportunities for Continuing Partnerships

Three years ago, an unprecedented coalition of governments, civil society organizations, and businesses issued a challenge to the global community: improve the systems and institutions that govern land and natural resources. This call to action, and the roadmap for addressing it, were articulated in the landmark Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT), which were unanimously endorsed by the UN Committee on World Food Security in May 2012.

Set against the backdrop of the global land rush triggered by the 2007-2008 food price shock – which highlighted problems around vulnerable groups being forced or coerced off land they traditionally occupied – the VGGT provided, for the first time, non-binding globally agreed standards of practice for strengthening the land and resource rights of people and communities around the world. This is critical because improved land governance is one of the most effective tools for enhancing food security, eradicating extreme poverty, improving environmental protection, and promoting more sustainable social and economic development.

Weak land and resource rights are key drivers of some of our most pressing development challenges, including environmental degradation, deforestation, and conflict. Weak rights also reduce incentives to invest in ways that improve agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability. Helping vulnerable and marginalized people understand, record, and protect their rights helps reduce these harms and improve lives.

USAID, along with U.S. Government partners from the Department of State, Department of Agriculture, Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, played a lead role in the development of the VGGT. Three years on, through a variety of programming and research initiatives, USAID continues to support efforts to make the promise of the VGGT a reality for women and men around the globe.

In Zambia, USAID is piloting one of the largest customary land certification programs in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Tanzania, USAID is piloting the use of a low-cost smartphone app to map and record the land rights of rural women and men. And in Ethiopia, USAID, in partnership with the governments of the UK and Germany, is working with national and regional governments to further improve the legal and regulatory framework related to rural land governance, including for pastoral communities.

Around the world, USAID and other donors are working in a collaborative and coordinated manner to ensure that land and resource rights are respected and protected in line with the VGGT. And, as the Chair of the Global Donor Working Group on Land, USAID continues to encourage its many partners to work together to protect the land rights of women, indigenous people, and other vulnerable groups – because we know, from years of experience, that land matters.