UN unveils guidelines to curb land grabbing | Africa | DW | 12.03.2012
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Africa

UN unveils guidelines to curb land grabbing

After an outcry from developing countries, a UN meeting in Rome on global food security has adopted draft guidelines to protect communal land users, from wealthy, exploitative land grabbers.

Olivier De Schutter, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food, answers journalists' questions, during a press conference, after he presented his report to the 16th session of U.N. Human Rights Council, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland,

Olivier De Schutter UN Special Rapporteur on the right to Food

"We have come up with a set of principles that governments should respect in order to better protect land users." That's what Olivier De Schutter, UN special Rapporteuer on the Right to Food told DW in a recent interview, after the UN committee on global food security adopted a new set of rules to reduce land grabbing.

De Schutter explained that the UN principles were to be implemented in domestic legislation and would be a source of reference for courts and national human rights organisations. He also said implementation would be supervised at international level by the Committee on World Food Security.

Burundian farmers digging their land in preparation for planting.

Most land in rural Africa is owned by the state

"It is a departure point since it provides some international framework to define what states are expected to do," he explained.

Scramble for land resources

De Schutter says that in many parts of rural Africa the users of the land are not legally recognized as the owners of the land. The state very often gives away this land to investors who offer to develop it. The users, who depend on the land for their livelihoods, are evicted without having access to legal redress.

This might soon change now that the UN has agreed on a set of steps that need to be followed when large tracts of farmland are acquisitioned.

"The committee has come up with guidelines on how states should consult, which compensation they should provide in order to reduce the impact of land grabbing in Africa," De Schutter said.

He noted that most cases of land grabbing involved the poor, who lacked political influence. Private companies and governments were selling, or leasing out, large areas of land because of the water and other resources below ground.

"And because land is becoming a scarce commodity and food prices will be more volatile, these actors seek to protect their assets by buying land which rural communities depend on," De Schutter explained.

Human rights often violated

It is in instances such as these that human rights, such as the right to food, the right to housing and even the right to life are sometimes threatened.

A view of Congo forest with a river running in between

Access to water and other resources has led to an increase of land grabbing

De Schutter says two thirds of land grabbing was taking place in sub-Saharan Africa. The phenomenon was being further fuelled by weak government. "Many of these lands are given away by corrupt officials, and because the local elites benefit from these transactions, but not the rural under-protected communities."

The UN official believes land grabbing has contributed greatly to poverty.

"Land grabbing results in large-scale plantations, the result is that less employment will be created, and a large number of people may loose their livelihoods."

Author: Chrispin Mwakideu
Editor: Mark Caldwell / rm

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