Everybody has the right to adequate food. As the world’s population continues to grow and land as well as associated natural resources are increasingly becoming scarce and precious, it has to be ensured that public and private investments in land give priority to food production and nutrition or generate sufficient income for the local population to enable them to buy food on the local market that has been produced elsewhere. Currently, however, large-scale land-based investments tend to produce for a global market without sharing the benefits with local communities. Where these investments take place in an irresponsible manner they may even result in local communities no longer having access to land and other resources on which their livelihoods depend.
The “Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests” (VGGT) include safeguards against dispossession of legitimate tenure rights holders among others by private and public, foreign and domestic large-scale investments. They provide guidance what different stakeholders such as governments (including those of states of origin of multinational investors), private and public investors (including financial ones) and civil society organisations can do.
2 Key Questions
The VGGT provide a lot of more or less detailed guidance for different stakeholders how to ensure responsible investments in land. But how can it be ensured that governments as well as private investors apply the VGGT? During the working group session it has been discussed if additional incentives, obligations and/or mechanisms of sanctions are needed to ensure responsible land-based investments and if so, what preconditions need to be established, primarily at international and regional level.
During the conference, it has been stressed that the VGGT are voluntary but they are based on legally binding international law on human rights. Governments as well as private commercial as well as financial investors therefore have more than just a responsibility to apply them.
Governments should therefore follow the recommendations of the Guidelines and initiate multi-stakeholder processes to identify jointly gaps between the de jure as well as the de facto situation in their country on the one side and the VGGT standards on the other side to develop a road map on how to improve governance of tenure, particularly in regard to agricultural investment. In line with the VGGT, governments should recognize the importance of small scale food producers – given that they are responsible for most of the agricultural investment and produce most of the food consumed in developing countries – and support their investments by investing in public goods with a high social and economic return and by promoting agricultural business models that ensure that control of the land and associated natural resources remains with local tenure rights holders. This needs to be accompanied by the development, introduction or use of land tenure registration systems able to accommodate all types of legitimate tenure rights without changing the nature of them.
In regard to governments of countries of origin of trans-national investors, conference participants agreed that they need to bring their house in order and contribute from their side as well to ensure that investments are done in a responsible manner, e.g. by putting in place mechanisms to monitor compliance of investors with human rights obligations. It was recommended that governments acting at international level should take up the VGGT as base when setting up new policies and treaties, make the application of the VGGT a prerequisite for cooperation with other governments as well as with private actors and should ensure that their support to land administration/land policy/land governance projects comply with the VGG.
In regard to private investors, conference participants stressed that the VGGT can reinforce and complement when needed the guiding principles on business and human rights (Ruggie framework) to which private investors should comply. In the EU context, conference participants proposed to include VGGT standards such as human rights and tenure rights assessments prior to investments into the national action plans to implement the Ruggie framework.
The conference participants recognize the importance that future international instruments, policies or initiatives regarding land based investments build on the VGGT and clearly reflect their core principles. Ongoing processes such as the drafting and negotiation of the responsible agricultural investment principles (rai principles) by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), the review of the World Bank safeguard policy, the drafting of the post 2015 development goals need to be in line with the VGGT and promote their core principles – above all recognition, respect and protection of all legitimate tenure rights holders and their rights. In regard to the WB safeguards the importance of developing a separate safeguard exclusively dealing with land tenure was underlined.
Participants from civil society and research also pointed out the necessity to rethink international investment treaties and to ensure that in addition to the current investors’ protection they also include investors’ obligations, in particular in regard to human and tenure rights. As representatives from private sector were afraid that such arrangements may fire back on responsible investors, participants did not agree on this issue. One suggestion was to urgently further investigate on the link between investment agreements, safeguards regarding human and tenure rights and extraterritorial obligations of states.
Finally, there was consensus among conference participants that complaint and monitoring mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure responsible land-based investments. Several suggestions have been made on how to concretise this. National Human Rights Committees as well as embassies of those countries from where public as well as private investments originate could act as complaints bodies. The introduction of a Special Rapport for Investments has also been suggested. Last but not least, civil society organisations have been named of being responsible for monitoring investments using the VGGT as yardstick and for providing feedback towards governments and CFS; the CFS having an ultimate responsibility for global monitoring of the application of the VGGT.
Governments: initiate national multi-stakeholder platforms and approaches, conduct – in a participatory manner - de jure and de facto checks and prepare adjustment plans, support investments by male and female small holders, invest into public goods (infra-structure, education, extension, research etc.) to create a conducive investment envi-ronment for small scale producers, promote collaborative business models that ensure that control of the land remains with the local tenure rights holders, focus on recording legitimate tenure rights, support capacity building (information on national laws, rights, awareness raising on VGGT), include VG principles into CAADP investment compacts; harmonize policies of different ministries, set up complaint mechanisms at national level.
Governments acting at international level: use the VG as standard when entering into cooperation with other countries, when setting up new policies and treaties and make the application of the VG standards a prerequisite when cooperating with partner countries and private investors.
Governments of countries of investors’ origin: - set up monitoring and complaint mechanism in recipient countries involving their embassies. This initiative could be launched by G8 or G20 or a similar body. - further investigate the link between investment agreements, extraterritorial obliga-tions and safeguards regarding human and tenure rights,
EU countries: Include VG standards into national action plans to implement the guid-ing principles on business and human rights (Ruggie framework).
World Bank: In the process of reviewing the World Bank social and environmental safeguards use the VG as standard to develop a separate safeguard on land.
CSO: Disseminate the VG message, monitor investments using the VG as yardstick and report to governments and CFS, get into negotiation mode to ensure that govern-ments react to their demands.
Financial Investors: Apply the VG standards in their operations.
CFS: rai principles should build on VG and not reopen discussion on land issues. They should also recognize that smallholders are the biggest group of investors whose role should be strengthened by public investment.
FAO with the support of CSO: Produce easy to read/understand version of the VG and make it available in local languages.