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Land tenure rights are at the heart of fighting hunger and transforming food systems

Highlights from the first ever Food Day at the Rio Conventions Pavilion at UNCCD COP 15 in Abidjan

by David Betge | 2022-05-23

Land tenure rights are at the heart of fighting hunger and transforming food systems

A food crisis is in the making. Driven by climate change, energy crisis, war and unsustainable production and consumption patterns, the emerging food crisis lays bare the shortcomings of our food systems. Land tenure rights, defining the relationships between people and land, are at the heart of these systems. The first ever Food Day at the Rio Conventions Pavilion at UNCCD COP 15 in Abidjan underlined the complexity of our food systems and the need to work across different levels, linking grassroots work to global policymaking and national legislation to effect change. Recognizing that the protection of legitimate tenure rights is key to enable food system change can lay the ground for a true integration of efforts at implementing all three Rio Conventions and contribute to food system transformation, argues Berlin-based think tank TMG Research.

The economist is predicting a coming food catastrophe. Others would argue that the catastrophe is already there. "We really need to rethink the way we produce and the way we consume." said UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw at the High-level opening of the Food Day on May 12th. He also argued for integrated approaches for implementing the three Rio Conventions and recognizing the need to engage stakeholders across the three conventions to change food systems for a just and sustainable future. However, to achieve our internationally agreed objectives we must not only engage those actors already involved in implementing the Rio Conventions, but we must broaden the scope of actors, which requires strengthening the voice and presence of the grassroots. We need to address key enabling factors that allow local communities and indigenous peoples to contribute to policymaking and implementation.

It is well established that secure access to land enables long-term investments. It also allows people to switch from subsistence-mode to more long-term thinking, freeing up capacities to engage in policy discourses and action. Effective policies for climate resilience and ecosystem restoration require inputs from local communities and indigenous peoples. They are the experts on the issues that enable them to contribute to better food systems. They know how land tenure enables or respectively constrains their livelihoods and ability to produce food in a sustainable way. Insecure tenure is among the key issues that keep grassroots actors from building better futures for themselves and contributing to food system transformation. Tenure security also increases their resilience to external shocks, including food crises.

These issues were highlighted during the Food Day at the Rio Pavilion by a session on land tenure security during which Faith Alubbe, CEO of Kenya Land Alliance reminded the audience that there are still huge gaps when it comes to connecting local actors and realities with policymaking on national and international level. While grassroots actors can bring powerful examples of how they change power dynamics and enable secure access to land for marginalized groups through engaging on the local level, as demonstrated by Violet Shivutse of Shibuye Community Workers Kenya, these voices are still too dependent on ad-hoc support to be heard in national or even international forums.

If secure land tenure is seriously considered to be a key enabler of sustainable food system transitions and a means to fight hunger and achieve the objectives of the Rio Conventions, this means that efforts at bringing local communities and indigenous peoples to the decision-making table need to be renewed. Responsible land governance in line with the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT) requires participation and consent of those with legitimate rights to land. Participation and consent are not only key in the context of national level land governance. They also improve decisions on the international level and increase their legitimacy. The transformation of our food systems means major shifts in how we use land. If we want to restore 1 billion hectares of land this has significant implications for land tenure. TMG´s work in Kenya, Malawi, Madagascar, and Benin shows, how decisions taken at the international level to achieve land degradation neutrality affect the livelihoods and tenure security of local communities. It also highlights, that communities have much to offer to change our food systems. To enable this contribution, participatory approaches are needed on the local, national and international level, that make local women, youth, Indigenous communities, and smallholder farmers and pastoralists central actors in our efforts to achieve the 2030 agenda, transform our food systems and build a sustainable future without hunger.

The Food Day, which took place on 12 May, was co-organized by TMG Think Tank, UNCCD, WWF, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, the Committee on World Food Security, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the Center for International Forestry Research-World Agroforestry Center (CIFOR-ICRAF), the UN Environment Programme, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, and the One Planet Network.

Picture caption: From left to right, Aurélie Brès (FAO), Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim (l’Association des femmes peules et peuples autochtones du Tchad), Violet Shivutse (Shibuye Community Workers), David Betge (TMG Research) Ⓒ Matthew TenBruggencate, IISD.

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