March 13, 2012 / 5:03 PM / 8 years ago

UN-backed land use rules ready for final OK: FAO

MILAN (Reuters) - UN-backed global guidelines on responsible land use have won international consensus after three years of debates, the United Nations’ food agency said on Tuesday, stepping up efforts to regulate so-called land-grabbing and boost food security.

Workers on a farm in South Africa, February 15, 2010. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The guidelines include promoting equal rights for women in securing title to land, creating transparent record-keeping systems accessible to the rural poor and protecting traditional land rights, UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.

A voluntary code of conduct has been in the works over the past three years, driven by concerns that countries such as China and Gulf Arab states are buying swathes of land in Africa and Asia to secure their own food supplies, potentially at the expense of local people.

The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests set principles for national authorities to refer to when passing laws and setting policy related to access and ownership rights for land, fisheries and forest resources, the FAO said in a statement.

The guidelines also aim to give investors and developers clear indications on best practices and to provide civil society land rights groups with benchmarks they can use in their work on behalf of rural communities, the agency said.

Even though voluntary, the guidelines are expected to “set the bar for policymakers”, Yaya Olaniran, head of the U.N. Committee on World Food Security (CFS), said in the statement.

“The voluntary guidelines will play an important part in answering the challenge of ending hunger and assuring food security of every child, woman and man in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable way,” FAO Director General Jose Graziano da Silva said.

A spike in food prices in 2007-08 sparked a wave of land deals as food-importing countries and major agricultural businesses sought to increase their supplies and protect themselves from price volatility.

Ninety six countries plus the European Union along with non-governmental groups, civil society organisations, U.N. agencies and other international organisations, farmers associations and private sector representatives have worked on the guidelines.

The international talks have suffered several setbacks, including a failure to agree on rules for large-scale investment in farmland in October.

After the working group agreed on the text last week, the proposed guidelines are now expected to be considered by the CFS for final approval at a special session, tentatively scheduled for May 18 in Rome, the FAO said.

The CFS Secretariat will publish the text of the guidelines soon on its Website.

The guidelines will form the basis for the first of seven principles for “responsible agricultural investment”, drawn up by the World Bank, FAO and other U.N. agencies but yet to be adopted internationally.

The first of those principles states that investment should recognise and respect existing land rights. Further principles say investment should not jeopardise food security and that all those materially affected should be consulted.

The two initiatives are separate but complementary.

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