Make room SDGs, land rights are here to stay!

ILC Secretariat
Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Now that land rights have a secure place in the 2030 Agenda and are recognised as a critical element in transforming our world, it’s time to celebrate but also think of what’s next. 

Our fight up until now has been concentrating on getting land rights indicators in place to ensure that ‘what gets measured, gets done’ - and it continues. At the same time, a win for land indicators could mean a real shift in how relevant land rights are for sustainable development as a whole.

ILC members have been at the frontline to keep land rights high on the 2030 Agenda ever since discussions on the global goals began in early 2015. Years of advocacy have finally paid off this November when the Inter-Agency Expert Group on SDGs Indicators (IAEG-SDG) reclassified the remaining two land rights indicators, 1.4.2 and 5.a.2, moving them from Tier III to Tier II.

This reclassification was achieved thanks to the massive effort of international organisations leading the development of the indicators methodology, the so-called custodian agencies (World Bank, UN Habitat, FAO and UN Women), as well as many ILC members and partners engaged in the process to develop, pilot and advocate for the three land rights indicators and their reclassification to Tier II.

Here are the THREE land rights indicators for SDG 1 and 5 that are now 'Tier II'

1.4.2 Proportion of total adult population with secure tenure rights to land, with legally recognized documentation and who perceive their rights to land as secure, by sex and by type of tenure.

5.a.1 (a) Proportion of total agricultural population with ownership or secure rights over agricultural land, by sex; and (b) share of women among owners or rights-bearers of agricultural land, by type of tenure.

5.a.2 Proportion of countries where the legal framework (including customary law) guarantees women’s equal rights to land ownership and/or control.

One year ago, all three land rights indicators were classified as Tier III. This meant that there was no agreed methodology and National Statistical Offices were not in a position to collect data on them. The  risk was that indicators in Tier III would disappear from the 2030 Agenda entirely, and all of the efforts of ILC members and partners to stress the importance of measuring improvements in land rights as part of the sustainable development agenda would be in vain. What does this mean concretely?

Tier II however means that those indicators now have internationally agreed, tested and ready to implement methodologies[1] and all National Statistical Offices know how to collect the data for these indicators. For indicator 1.4.2 and 5.a.1 this means gathering data via household surveys and collection of admin data, while for indicator 5.a.2 it implies a legal analysis for each country.

What does this mean for the land community and what’s next?

Above and beyond this being a major victory for the land community, this could be the start of a profound change in land rights being recognised as being at the core of sustainable development.

According to Dr. Peter Messerli, co-chair to lead the group of scientific experts tasked with drafting the upcoming UN Global Sustainable Development Report, “the transformative potential of the land related indicators is that we can talk about land not as a threatening subject – but as having the potential to alleviate poverty and achieve sustainable development.”

Now that the land indicators have moved to Tier II, everyone is focusing on monitoring, who is responsible for it, how can it be done, and who will gather the data, among other practical questions.

Coordinated actions of donors, custodian agencies and civil society organisations at country level to engage with and support NSOs will be key to encourage the gathering of data and the use of these indicators.  We will need to remain vigilant and use advocacy spaces at national and global levels to ensure that indicators will:

  1. Continue to focus on various form of tenure and not only on ownership;
  2. produce sex-disaggregated data (e.g. through randomized households surveys);
  3. that data is gathered for all parts of the indicator - for instance both perception and administrative data for indicator 1.4.2.

While these are fundamental for us to move forward, the broader potential of these indicators is to break free from the idea that land rights is an agricultural issue only and open up a conversation on the role of land rights in sustainable development in all its dimensions: social, economic and environmental.

“The real win of these indicators is that they are an inspiration for us to link land to other development issues, including gender equality, reducing poverty and hunger, economic growth and protecting our environment”, Messerli adds.

Both in practical and conceptual terms, this is a critical milestone. All of us in the land community have a role to play to ensure that there is follow-through and these indicators are able to make a real difference in people’s lives.

The ILC secretariat is ready to support our members and work with other key partners at the global and national level to make sure this happens.

Check out these blogs for more insights from GLII and Landesa.