“Congratulations, today your baby is four years old,” Iris Krebber, DFID/UK recently emailed me. Iris was not referring to a child, but rather the Voluntary Guidelines for the Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forest (VGGT), an agreement I had the challenging pleasure of bringing to life by chairing a UN negotiation process that resulted in the first globally agreed recommendations for addressing land, fisheries, and forests governance. Often colleagues don’t remember my name, but they call me “the land guy,” which I suppose is better than the “dirt guy.”
The call for an international set of guidelines came from many quarters between 2008 and 2010, but was largely driven by concerns raised in international fora by civil society, member states, development partners, and the private sector. These concerns primarily pertained to food security (and specifically food price spikes) and access, and rights to land and other resources by small, medium and large scale producers as they impact investments in food production systems.
One of the more notable concerns driving the development of the Guidelines was related to large scale land acquisitions (including what some organizations may sometimes refer to as “land grabbing”). Through a technical process FAO developed the initial draft of the Guidelines, and then initiated a process of input and consultation over two years before the document was given to the UN Committee for World Food Security (UN CFS) for negotiation.
As the subject of land rights can be very political (no international guidance can address the plethora of land challenges from Latin America to Africa to Asia and beyond with one-solution fits-all-problems), and civil society organizations, member states, and the private sector often have different views and needs in achieving their respective objectives, you can imagine it was not an easy task for CFS to agree to a set of guidelines.
Land is an incredibly valuable asset that represents many different things. Land is, first and foremost, a place to call home. For many, it also serves as a critical means of production that they depend on for their livelihoods. Finally, land is inextricably linked to a community's history and culture.
Yet, as important as land ownership may be, 70% of the world's population still lacks access to proper land titling or demarcation. This carries a host of negative consequences: when people have to live with the constant threat of potential eviction, they are more likely to remain or become poor, and cannot invest in their land with confidence.
Conversely, stronger land rights can be a powerful tool for economic development and poverty reduction. That is why the World Bank is working with client countries to build legal and institutional frameworks that effectively protect land tenure - including for vulnerable groups such as women and indigenous peoples.
In this video, World Bank Practice Manager Jorge Muñoz describes in greater depth how the institution is bolstering land tenure around the world as part of its mission to eliminate poverty and boost shared prosperity.
Vietnam is my first love working for the World Bank. It is the first country I worked in when I joined the Bank back in 1994.
At the time, the country was still opening up to the outside world, and the Bank had just set up a small office there. I recently returned to Vietnam after 15 years, this time as the Bank’s Global Lead for Land. I saw a completely different country: while the old city charm is still there, Hanoi has transformed to the point that it is really difficult to recognize… as if I had landed in Japan, China, or any other Southeast Asian country.
The airport used to be one gate; now, it is a modern airport not much different from any airport in Western Europe or the United States. I remember that, when I worked in Vietnam in the mid-90s, GDP per capita was averaging US$200, and around 50% of people lived in extreme poverty. Today, GDP per capita has soared to about US$2000, while extreme poverty has dropped to around 3% according to the US$1.9/day extreme poverty line... An impressive achievement in less than 20 years.
My trip to Vietnam had the goal of helping the government modernize and automate the land administration system. In the early 90s, the country launched an ambitious reform program to transform the land use model from communal farming to individual household ownership by breaking up the communal land structure and distributing land to individual households. This reform was then credited with changing Vietnam from a net importer of rice to one of the largest rice exporters in the world in only a few years.
In accordance with the Land Law of 1993, the first Land Use Certificates (LUCs) issued under the program were in the name of the “head of household”, i.e. in the name of men only. Later on, the Vietnamese government, with support from the World Bank, strove to change things around by issuing LUCs bearing both the wife’s and the husband’s names.
These few words from the ‘The Face of Female Farming’ aptly capture some of the roles and responsibilities of women in our society. Yesterday, the world celebrated the 101th year of International Women’s Day. Today, we continue to celebrate and honor women and girls worldwide by highlighting some interesting work and articles produced by the World Bank in the field of gender over the past year.
Manav Seva Sansthan (MSS), 2008 Development Marketplace winner, recently won the STAR Impact Award. The award recognizes and supports local organisations that achieve excellence in the provision of services to disadvantaged children and that demonstrate effective management practices. Winners receive $100,000 in unrestricted funding, tailored consultancy support and media training.
Under the Development Marketplace project, MSS works to provide excluded women and their families with legal rights to land through a collective/group land ownership rights model. The concept of collective land ownership for ensuring women control of land and building women’s leadership in agriculture based livelihood is unique in the Indian context. MSS is successfully carrying out “collective land and collective farming” with small farmers using Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA) techniques.