Trends in land governance 2015-2018
This paper was presented during the 2018 Global Land Forum in Bandung, Indonesia
by Lorenzo Cotula
In many parts of the world, land relations are experiencing rapid and profound change. People who have a strong connection with the land – including peasants, indigenous peoples, forest dwellers, pastoralists and fisherfolk – are feeling the squeeze. Land policies are also changing rapidly.
In this evolving context, there is an even greater need to closely track developments as they unfold. In the run-up to the 2018 Global Land Forum in Bandung, the ILC took stock of developments since the last Forum in Dakar, 2015.
The idea was to provide ILC members with a space to articulate the main issues they face – a vehicle for collective, bottom-up analysis. 21 ILC members and initiatives responded with submissions covering 30 countries from different continents. I helped to summarise the findings, together with Ward Anseeuw and Giulia Baldinelli.
The number of responses received is small both in absolute terms, and relative to the ILC membership. It does not necessarily reflect a representative sample, and the result is not a comprehensive overview of global trends.
But the submissions did provide insights about some of the issues that the members who responded are grappling with. The diverse picture that emerged is one of contradictions – a picture where major advances coexist with deepening concerns.
One positive development relates to the advances made in some public policies. These include national law reforms to strengthen the protection of collective, customary land rights – a further move away from longstanding perceptions that private land ownership via individual land titles is the only way to go. The challenge ahead lies in implementation.
Members also outlined how people in many parts of the world have been mobilising on land rights issues. New spaces for multi-stakeholder engagement provided opportunities for this – including as part of efforts to monitor the implementation of recently developed international guidance. In other cases, activists resorted to public campaigns and even legal action.
This growing public engagement with land rights issues holds the promise of more democratic, bottom-up land governance. It is also helping to bring about concrete change.
Some members reported that their government has become more willing to listen. They also reported specific advances in securing collective rights in practice – for example, those of pastoralists in Africa and indigenous peoples in Latin America.
Submissions from Latin America identified positive experiences in advancing a territorial approach that links land governance to greater autonomy and accountability at local government level.
One submission from Asia discussed how digital technology can disrupt old patterns in land governance, drastically reducing the time needed for registration, and improving access for women and poorer farmers.
These are encouraging trends. But in their submissions ILC members also raised real concerns about new and longstanding challenges.
Commercial projects continue to exacerbate pressures on land in many places, even though the “global land rush” that peaked a few years ago has now ebbed. Members raised concerns about large-scale agribusiness plantations now at implementation stage, but also about the land footprint of extractive industry projects, a new big infrastructure push, and special economic zones.
And beyond the direct land impacts of large-scale projects, more diffuse processes of agricultural commercialisation are having a profound effect on small-scale rural producers and ultimately their relation to land. One submission from Europe discussed how new technologies and old practices are being combined to sustain exploitative production systems.
In raising these issues, the submissions outlined the diverse ways in which global inequalities unfold in the land governance arena. They also raised questions about the social differentiation that cuts across communities and even families, including inequality between women and men as they are affected by the transformations.
These trends partly result from market forces. But members also indicated that public policies are at play, “agrarian reforms in reverse” that favour large-scale commercial interests – sometimes coexisting in the same country with the more “progressive” policies.
Advances made in opening up spaces for public participation are overshadowed by growing state-sponsored repression, which in many places makes it harder – and more dangerous – for activists to do their work. The past three years have been a particularly tragic time for the murders, attacks and intimidation of land rights defenders, and several submissions referred to the shrinking space for land activism.
The submissions reflected the great diversity of contexts – more than it was possible to bring out in this short note. Many important issues did not get the space they would deserve. But across the board, it is clear that we are witnessing a period of far-reaching change in land relations.
The Global Land Forum has provided a great opportunity for ILC members to discuss these issues and debate possible ways forward. We have important advances to celebrate. But there is still so much work to do, and ILC members can play an important role by sending a clear signal about their resolve to rise to the challenge.
Learn more about the 2018 Global Land Forum