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Natural Resource Governance around the World

The call for the convening of a World Forum on Access to Land and Natural Resource (WFAL 2016)

10 years after the World Forum on Agrarian Reform (WFAR) and the International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD)


It has long been recognized that providing vulnerable rural populations with access to land improves their quality of life and contributes to global food security. This conclusion was reached in 1979, during the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (organized by the FAO), which recommended distributing land to landless rural populations and farmers who do not have enough land to make a decent living from their work. In 1996, the World Food Summit (also convened by the FAO in Rome) noted that the problem of hunger was far from being resolved and committed to cutting world hunger in half by 2015. Six years later, at a 2002 summit, they concluded that this goal was unreachable. A 2004 FAO report on food insecurity demonstrated that global hunger was growing.

It was in this context that the Center for Rural Studies and International Agriculture (CERAI), in collaboration with a large number of civil society organizations, coordinated the World Forum on Agrarian Reform (WFAR) in Valencia, Spain, in 2004. The forum brought together 500 delegates representing more than 200 organizations from 72 countries and five continents. It provided participants with the opportunity to discuss the extent to which limited land access – and, more generally, the marginalization of rural populations – was contributing to poverty, rural exodus, and migration. They reached the conclusion that food sovereignty would not be achieved until rural populations had access to land and natural resources- and that recognizing farmers’ rights was a necessary first step towards achieving both of these goals.

Two years later, the FAO and the Government of Brazil organized the International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD) in Porto Alegre (Brazil). Governmental representatives from countries participating to ICARRD reaffirmed that food insecurity, hunger, and rural poverty are mainly caused by limited access to productive resources, which affects the majority of the world’s farmers. They concluded that family agriculture in general - and traditional rural communities and indigenous groups in particular - can effectively promote global food security and sustainable development if existing development policies are modified to support vulnerable populations by reinforcing their collective and individual rights.

Ten years after the WFAR (2004) and the ICARRD (2006): Disappointing results

Worldwide trends in land and natural resource access have become increasingly out of step with the recommendations of the WFAR and the ICCARD over the last ten years, even before large scale land acquisitions/leases became as prevalent as they are today. Questions about the social and political consequences of large-scale investment projects, and the impacts that they will have on the environment and on food security, are being raised more and more frequently by a variety of different stakeholders. It is widely recognized that large scale land transactions – in particular the lack of transparency surrounding them, and the fact that they are frequently at odds with local land and water access norms - result in farmer evictions. Furthermore, these projects often export staple agricultural products from countries suffering from food insecurity, in many cases replacing existing food crops with biofuels. Finally, in most cases they promote production systems that favor monoculture and rely heavily on fossil fuels, industrial inputs, and transgenic seeds that may cause soil and water pollution and reduce biodiversity.

The world population has continued to grow in recent years, and many agricultural transformations have taken place. Farmers have become increasingly impoverished, and millions of people are currently being pushed out of agricultural sector. These dynamics reflect a lack of investment in rural areas, which has lead many agricultural regions into deep crisis. Current trends are depriving millions of farmers of adequate access to land, irrigation water, and other means of production. The exclusion and marginalization of such a large part of the world population will ultimately lead to major imba- lances. Farmers do not have guaranteed access to land and water, fishing areas and forests, and large agro-industrial projects are developing. This means that more and more frequently, entire communities are being evicted from the areas where they live and work. Moreover, the poorest rural areas happen to harbor the largest percentage of malnourished people. In its 2013 report entitled “The State of Food Insecurity in the World,” the FAO counts 842 million malnourished people – two thirds of whom live in rural areas.

The United Nations has declared 2014 the “International Year of Family Farming” (IYFF). In doing so, they are hoping to influence agricultural policies and investment practices by drawing attention to a variety of family farming models, and their unique capacity to increase food production while preserving ecosystems, creating employment, and reducing poverty. Given the seriousness of the threats facing family farmers today, the implications and relevance of this initiative cannot be underestimated. Moreover, numerous events addressing similar topics have been planned in recent years. Dialogue about a variety of related topics – in particular, about the right to land and to natural resources – is bringing together a variety of stakeholders including national governments, civil society organizations, and multilateral entities. The Committee on World Food Security planned one of the most significant recent initiatives, involving national governments, international institutions, and civil society organizations. After two years of negotiations, the CFS adopted the “Voluntary Guidelines for Responsible Governance of land tenure regimes applicable to Land, fisheries and forests in the Context of national Food Security” in 2012. These guidelines reflect the widely held belief that pro- moting responsible land governance is the most effective way to prevent land grabbing. The Farmers’ Forum of 2014 implored national governments to implement the decisions of the International Confe- rence on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD, 2006) and the CFS.


Ten years after the World Forum on Agrarian Reform WFAR (Valencia, 2004) and the International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development ICCARD (Porto Alegre, 2006), the signatories of this document are calling for an open discussion – which would build upon discussions begun during the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) - to deepen our understanding of the current context. It is a context in which hunger, demographic growth, exclusion, massive unemployment, environmental crisis, and crumbling food sovereignty are rampant; and in which widespread land acquisi- tions, leases, and concessions invite us to revisit fundamental questions of land and natural resource access. While large-scale investment projects are often profitable, they are not necessarily economically efficient - nor do they protect the interests of affected communities, or those of future generations. Do large-scale agricultural enterprises that rely on salaried labor to produce a limited number of commodities with large amounts of synthetic and/or fossil fuel inputs significantly increase yields and create wealth? Do they create enough jobs and income for the hundreds of millions of individuals who are entirely excluded from the system, as well as the people (equal or superior in number) who are actively searching for work? Can the coming agricultural revolution successfully feed nine billion people, provide employment for a large portion of the world popula- tion, and eradicate world hunger by replacing labor with capital? How can we guarantee that the principles laid out in the “Voluntary Guidelines” become a reality by reinforcing community rights and promoting sustainable development?

We believe that the question of human rights and common goods should be reintroduced into international discussions about land and natural resource access and use. Natural resources are being appropriated at unprecedented rates throughout the world. Whatever forms this appropriation takes, the end goal is the same – to commodify and market them in the name of “growth” and “well being” on a global scale. This approach ignores the historical, ecological, social, cultural, and political dimensions of current trends and minimizes their immediate and long-term impacts. We believe that the current context must be viewed through the lens of human rights – and that these should be expanded to include the right to equitably access land, water and natural resources; as well as the right to employ production systems in accordance with one’s ecological, economical, cultural and technical choices, as long as these do not undermine the com- mon interest.

We are asking civil society organizations and governmental institutions to mobilize in favor of a world forum dedicated to land and natural resource access. Everyone must be given the opportunity to share his or her viewpoints about the problems caused by current evolutions, and to develop solutions for the future. We are calling for the orga- nization of a forum that will allow us to do so.


On 26 January 2016, the appeal was signed by :

  • 545 farmers’, civil society or research organisations (254 from Africa, 51 from Asia, 104 from Europe, 96 from Latin America, 11 from North America, 28 global)

  • 607 persons,

  • 9 governmental or intergovernmental institutions