FNs generalforsamling åtvarar mot tap av dyrka mark

Stort press på dyrka mark  – heile 300 kvadratkilometer går tapt årleg – utgjer eit trugsmål mot retten til å kunna brødfø seg sjølv for menneske busett på landsbygda, sa FNs tredjekomite 21. oktober 2010. 

Rapporteur on Right to Food Leads Off Day-Long Discussion; Also Hears UN Experts on Debt, Internally Displaced Persons, Human Rights Defenders, Freedom of Religion
FNs generalforsamling tredje komite er uroa for at store areal med dyrka mark forsvinn årleg
The world was witnessing a situation in which pressures on land and water were increasing at “unprecedented speed,” with dramatic consequences for millions of farmers, fishermen and indigenous people and their right to food, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) was told today.

Reporting on an inquiry that he had been carrying out for the past two years, using questionnaires, consultations and workshops, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, said, each year, up to 30 million hectares of farmland were lost to environmental degradation, conversion to industrial use or urbanization – a trend made worse by increased competition between food and energy crops and speculation on farmland by private investors.

The report he was presenting, then, examined what should be done in order to ensure that those pressures on land did not have a negative impact on the enjoyment of the right to food by those who depended upon the land for their livelihoods, he continued. Rural populations grew. The plots cultivated by smallholders were shrinking. Farmers were often relegated to less fertile soils. “This poses a direct threat to the right to food of rural populations,” he said.

Closely examining the situation over the past several months, he had presented a report to the Human Rights Council that contained 11 principles relevant for application to large-scale land investments. Based on existing human rights obligations, the principles were, in a sense, the best practices recommended to Member States, and he expressed hope that oversight bodies, such as the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, could take inspiration from them to more closely monitor developments. He also noted his participation last week in the thirty-sixth annual session of the Committee of World Food Security in Rome – its first session since its reform in November 2009, following the need to improve global governance of food security after the global food price crisis — and said work had continued on the voluntary guidelines on land tenures.

Stating that “security of tenure” was key to protecting the rights of land users, he said, however, that it “should not necessarily take the form of titling schemes that transpose the Western concept of property rights in developing regions,” as, in the past, such schemes had frequently been captured by local elites or been unaffordable for the poorest. Instead, he argued that States should encourage communal ownership systems, strengthen customary land tenure systems and reinforce tenancy laws to improve the protection of land-users.

He added that land reform had often failed without rural development – such as well-resourced extension services and investments in the production process, including in storage facilities, communication routes and farmers’ cooperatives. “Agrarian reform only succeeds when it goes far enough in the support it provides to its beneficiaries,” he said.

During today’s session, the Committee heard from United Nations experts on foreign debt, internally displaced persons, human rights defenders, and freedom of religion or belief, with each having a question and answer session with delegates.

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During the question and answer session with the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, the representatives of Cuba, Switzerland, the United States, the European Union, China, Food and Agriculture Organization, Maldives, Ethiopia and Botswana spoke.

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The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Friday, 22 October to continue its discussion on human rights, and will hear from United Nations experts on the protection of the rights of all migrant workers and members of their families; adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living; right to development; extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the independence of judges and lawyers, and the situation of human rights in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Culture) met today to continue its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights. (For more information, please see Press Release GA/SHC/3984.)

It had before it the Note by the Secretary-General transmitting the interim report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food (document A/65/281). This report by Special Rapporteur Olivier De Schutter explores the threats posed by the increasing pressures on land and on three categories of land users: indigenous peoples, smallholders and special groups such as herders, pastoralists and fisherfolk. It explores how Member States and the international community could better respect, protect and fulfil the right to food by giving increased recognition to land as a human right. The report argues that, while security of tenure is indeed crucial, individual titling and the creation of a market for land rights may not be the most appropriate means to achieve it. Instead, the report suggests, the strengthening of customary land tenure systems and the reinforcement of tenancy laws could significantly improve the protection of land users. Drawing on the lessons learned from decades of agrarian reform, the report emphasizes the importance of land redistribution for the realization of the right to food. It also argues that development models that do not lead to evictions, disruptive shifts in land rights and increased land concentration should be prioritized.

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OLIVIER DE SCHUTTER, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, presented the main conclusions of the inquiry he began two years ago into the relationship between security of land tenure and access to land, and the right to adequate food. They were based on a questionnaire sent out to States about the measures they had adopted to ensure equitable access to land, as well as 115 communications concerning access to land that had been addressed to the Special Rapporteur between 2003 and 2009. The overall picture that emerged was impressive. “What we are witnessing is a situation in which pressures on land and water are increasing at an unprecedented speed,” he said.

Every year, up to 30 million hectares of farmland was lost to environmental degradation, conversion to industrial use or urbanization, he added. Exacerbating that trend had been increased competition between food and energy crops and, especially in the last couple of years, speculation on farmland by private investors. For some populations, particularly forest-dwellers, certain measures adopted to mitigate climate change might also affect access to land. “The consequences for millions of farmers, fishermen and indigenous people are in some cases dramatic,” he said.

He recalled a set of 11 principles based on human rights and relevant for large-scale investments in land, which he presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2010. They were based on existing human rights obligations; in a sense a set of best practices recommended to States wishing to better comply with their human rights obligations. It was hoped that human rights monitoring bodies, particularly the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, would seek inspiration from them and more closely monitor what was currently developing.

The report before the Committee examined what should be done to ensure that pressures on land did not have negative impacts on the enjoyment of the right to food, he said. Rural populations grew, plots cultivated by small holders shrank, and farmers were regulated to less fertile soil – This poses a direct threat to the right of food of rural populations,” he said. Security of tenure was key to protecting the right of land users, “but such security should not necessarily take the form of titling schemes that transpose the Western concept of property rights in developing regions.” Such schemes had often been captured by local elites; moreover, sometimes access titling has been unaffordable for the poorest, or confirmed existing inequalities. Where titling led to a market for land rights, the results in time led to land being appropriated not by those who needed it most or could use it productively, but who could afford to buy it. Without sufficient support, small producers risked losing their land, if they used that land as collateral to obtain credit and then became heavily indebted.

States should encourage communal ownership systems, strengthen customary land tenure systems, and reinforce tenancy laws to improve the protection of land-users, he said. There had been growing experience with the use of low-cost, accessible tools for recording local land rights, or at least land transactions, to ensure security of tenure through recognition of use rights, rather than full ownership. One example was the “Plan Foncier Rural” implemented in Benin and tested in Burkina Faso, and the $1 registration process in some Ethiopians states. To ensure the protection of women and outsiders, such as pastoralists, it was important to carefully monitor what has been done at the decentralized level. Laws and social customs that provided for land to be passed, upon the death of a husband, to his sons and not his widow were a flagrant violation of women’s rights and should not be allowed. In the presence of a sometimes highly unequal distribution of rural land, strengthening the security of tenure might be insufficient and, therefore, land redistribution might be required.

More equitable land distribution might contribute to economic growth, empowerment of women and reduction of rural poverty, Mr. De Schutter said. Food security would be improved, as food would be more easily and cheaply available, providing a buffer against external shocks and providing an almost complete buffer against malnutrition. But some conditions had to be in place. It was not sufficient just to redistribute land. Well-resourced extension services and investments were equally vital. “Land reform without rural development has often failed in the past; agrarian reform only succeeds when it goes far enough in the support it provides to its beneficiaries.”

He closed by drawing attention to the meeting in Rome last week of the committee of World Food Security, which he had attended and where the question of the protection of the rights of land users had been an important part of the discussion. The Committee had encouraged continuation of the inclusive process of development of Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land and other Natural Resources.


The Special Rapporteur then fielded questions from nine representatives, who spoke consecutively. He clustered a number of his responses to their questions.

The Special Rapporteur, first, stated that the impact of climate change on the ability to feed ourselves in the future was an essential part to his work, and that his next report would discuss this topic in great length. He noted that, by 2020, the yield of food in certain areas of Africa would decrease by 50 percent because of changes in temperature, not even considering El Nino and other weather patterns that were becoming increasingly unpredictable and difficult to cope with. He answered the Maldives’, as well as the European Union’s, questions about the threat of climate on food policies by saying that the international community could help with a massive transfer of technology to allow agriculture to develop in a sustainable way. Agriculture was responsible for 33 per cent of greenhouse gas (and 14 per cent if they only looked at methane and nitrous oxide), so they needed to support developing countries in that regard.

Regarding questions on recommended measures to protect the security of tenure and what steps could be taken to better protect the right to land for those who depended on it for their livelihood, an issue raised by Switzerland, he stated that he put hope in the voluntary guidelines being developed by the Committee on World Food Security which were inclusive of not just the North and South, but of international agencies, civil society and farmer’s organizations. If a consensus could emerge among those groups regarding the voluntary guidelines, then that would be difficult to ignore, because of the groups’ legitimacy, he stated.

Answering the question of the European Union about safeguards against abuses resulting from customary forms of tenure, he said there was a risk that outsiders to the community would be marginalized if the allocation of land rights was left to the local chiefs, or customary forms of decision-making at the local level, and that States had to control what was done at the local level and establish constitutional safeguards to prevent abuse. Some countries, such as Madagascar, had showed that it was possible to develop a decentralized approach to rights, but with central control.

Disagreeing with the United States over whether the right to food was subject to realization, he said there were aspects of the right to food that were immediate – for example, to respect the right to food by not depriving existing access. With regard to the question about whether land redistribution could exacerbate poverty and food shortages, he said “absolutely.” In his report he described many problems with land redistribution schemes that were not well thought out, and had failed in Africa or Latin America. However, there had also been success in Asia, because reform had not just been redistribution, but supporting small farmers, developing their capacity, permitting access to credits and markets and promoting rural development schemes. All conditions of agricultural reform had to be present, or the result could be a disaster/

Concerning the European Union’s question about which measures should be a priority in moving towards the Millennium Development Goals, the answer was to move from a situation where there was a vicious circle between the rural and urban populations to a “virtuous circle”. Farmers who were not successfully farming anymore were migrating to cities and living in slums, forming the urban poor. Thus, promoting cheap food did not reward producers, because it made farming unviable for small-scale producers. It was necessary to increase support to small-scale farmers to stem the migration from rural to urban areas and to make small-scale farming viable and productive. Once achieved, it would be easier to deal with policies for the urban poor, and the interests of farmers would not be in opposition to the urban population. The exclusive focus on producing more food to make it cheap for the urban population had shown its limitations.

Responding to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) question about the 11 principles concerning the right to food that he had recommended, he said that the principles he had outlined were based on human rights, and not voluntary or best practices. They followed from a correct understanding of human rights obligations already binding States through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which made reference to food. States must be monitored regarding how they managed the large-scale investment in land. The principles indicated how States should proceed.

Finally, responding to China on how Governments could strike a balance between developing their economies by using land to build infrastructures, versus protecting an amount of arable land to ensure the right to food, he said that he understood Governments’ need to develop infrastructure, communication, cities and industrialization to achieve development, while also respecting the right to land. It was not possible to provide a simple answer to this delicate question. However, where farmers were not provided access to land, they should be compensated and given land of equal value so they can continue to farm. Displacement by large-scale development should also have “prior and informed consent.” He noted that he believed such standards should be extended beyond indigenous people to all communities that depended on the land for their livelihoods, as they had no other asset or social safety net. Only with prior and informed consent should displacement be allowed, as he had outlined in the 11 principles.
21 October 2010

U.N. Meetings Coverage

Sixty-fifth General Assembly – Third Committee – 24th & 25th Meetings (AM & PM)

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Copyright (c) 2010, United Nations.

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