Millions of women and men in the developing world directly depend on land and other natural resources, including forests, rangelands and foreshores. Land rights are both a fundamental human rights issue and a means to achieve multiple development benefits.
Land rights are a source of dignity and empowerment, as well as a basis for economic and social development, particularly for women. Many livelihoods are based on secure and equitable access to and control over land and other natural resources as a source of food, income and shelter; an essential safety net in contexts of great vulnerability; collateral for access to credit opportunities, and in many countries, linked to accessing social services and social protection schemes.
In addition to being a platform for livelihoods, land, fisheries, forests and other natural resources are a basis for social, cultural and religious practices. As such, they are linked to cultural identity, especially true for the world's estimated 370 million Indigenous peoples, for whom their lands and territories are intrinsically part of their cosmovision.
Today, there is widespread recognition that land rights are fundamental to address the major challenges facing humanity: achieving gender equality, overcoming rural poverty, building fair and sustainable food systems that recognise small-scale producers, peace-building, managing ecosystems, mitigating and adapting to climate change and reversing land degradation. Access to and control over land has also been linked to greater investment and productivity increases by small farmers.
Unfortunately, natural resources and the tenure systems that govern them are increasingly under stress as urban areas expand, as more land is converted for cultivation to feed the world’s growing population and produce biofuels, and as environmental degradation and climate change reduce the availability and quality of land, water and forests. This pressure on land has resulted in an estimated 37 million hectares designated for land deals since 2000. Most of this land previously used by smallholders and local communities has been converted to medium or large-scale operations. Many of these land deals have been linked to loss of livelihoods and human rights violations have also been reported.
People should come before profit. Today, ownership and control over land continue to be concentrated in fewer hands, putting over 500 million small-scale producers and 230 million indigenous peoples who live on and from the land at risk of being further marginalised. We believe that land governance that places people at its center can promote sustainable and more equitable social and economic development that can help eradicate poverty and food insecurity, and protect the environment for future generations.