Securing communal lands and forests

3 March 2017 - ​This is an article by FIAN International, published on their website. Here the original version.

Since October 2014, FIAN International, together with African CSOs academic and non-profit research institutions have been inquiring into  the conditions under which the CFS/FAO Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (VGGT) can serve to increase bottom-up accountability amidst the pressures of the  global rush for land.  Current approaches are changing the use of land and water from small-scale, labor-intensive uses like peasant farming for household consumption and local markets, toward large-scale, capital-intensive uses such as industrial monocultures linked to metropolitan areas and foreign markets.

Last week, the findings were presented to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), to the Land Policy Initiative of the African Union, the African Development Bank and the Economic Commission for Africa (LPI-UNECA) and to the regional office of FAO. Held in Abuja, the dialogue which followed focused on what ECOWAS can do to support efforts of bottom-up accountability across West Africa, particularly in the framework of the Land Policy Initiative of the African Union and of the implementation of the CFS VGGT.

During the three years of the participatory action research, several African NGOs involved in the project, namely National Coordination of Peasant Organizations of Mali and the Malian Convergence against Land Grabbing (CNOP-CMAT), Environmental Rights Action (ERA)/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, were able to successfully anchor their community organizing, actions and deepening reflections on the VGGT to hold local officials and transnational companies accountable in Large Scale Land Acquisition (LSLA) deals.

The research found that LSLAs impacted women and men differently. Forced evictions, land dispossessions, inadequate compensation for livelihoods and biodiversity losses, environmental degradation, as well as other LSLA related activities, resulted in landlessness or limited access to land. This negatively impacted social cohesion and peace and increased the burden of household food provision on the shoulders of women, as the latter sometimes had to; take full responsibility of malnourished kids, as well as ensure that there was food on the family table. Considering this finding and its implication for food security/sovereignty within the affected communities, it is important to engage with ECOWAS in the context of its ’Zero Hunger Initiative‘ which will work at local level with family farmers, at national level with governments and civil society and at regional level with ECOWAS countries for the promotion and realization of the right to food in the region.

As noted by Godwin Uyi Ojo, Executive Director of ERA small scale farmers “should be supported to assert their communal land rights to farmlands in order to promote staple food production rather than the promotion of transnational corporations such as Wilmar-PZ involved in land grabbing for palm oil that is mainly for export”.  “Since Africa can feed herself, therefore, we must promote a culture of food crops for food to feed the teeming population rather than fuels for machines and cars. Thus, expanding the frontiers for the African Convergence for food will be essential to support,” he stressed.

Commenting on empowering local communities, Ibrahim Coulibaly, President of CNOP-CMAT , noted:  “we must work to put development parameters in the hands of local people, therefore local organizing and ownership of lands through VGGT and communal land rights should be the areas of policy change to favour local farmers and the prevention of large scale land acquisitions.” We implemented multi stakeholder roundtables to carry a common message on customary land tenures, especially around the process of the new Agricultural Land Law in Mali. The Global Convergence of Land and Water Struggles West Africa will continue to liaise with the relevant authorities such as ECOWAS to ensure land that community land tenure is respected across Africa”.

The environment is our life, it is not for sale.


  • The organizations and academic and non-profit research institutions involved in the project are the following: National Coordination of Peasant Organizations of Mali and the Malian Convergence against Land Grabbing CNOP-CMAT Mali, Environmental Rights Action ERA/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, Katosi Women Development Trust KWDT-Uganda, Masifundise Development Trust MDT-South Africa, International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLASS) and Transnational Institute.
  • The project was funded by the International Development Research Centre Government of Canada (IDRC).