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Access to land and agricultural investments: building on coherent policies

by Alessandra Sgrò, More and Better International Secretariat

The approval of the The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGs) adopted by the Committee on World Food Security in May 2012 is a significant achievement in the direction of setting out principles and  internationally accepted standards for responsible  practices. VGs provide a framework  that States can use when  developing their  own  strategies, policies, legislation, programmes and activities. The document represents a broad agreement jointly shared by governments, civil society, international organizations and approved by FAO member nations (128 countries) and other interested parties as a result of three years negotiation process. It includes a meaningful series of principles, explains Antonio Onorati, President of Crocevia, and the International Planning Committee on Food Sovereignty. Civil society and social movements appreciation goes particularly to key issues such as: recognition and protection of legitimate tenure rights even under informal systems; indigenous communities rights; management of expropriations and restitution of land to people who were forcibly evicted in the past, and, last but not least, recognition of farmers as main investors. 
A success to be taken into account. However, there is still a long and urgent way to go when it comes to a coherent regulation of Agricultural investments to which the VGs only makes general references. The role of governments it is of course essential, and VGs can definitely help them to play a more active role in this direction. They are expected to fully commit to the VGs implementation and civil society along with farmers movement is ready to follow up on the process. 
EU Responsibility
The European Union is one of the main actor/stakeholder among FAO members that is expected to fully engage. For sure it has an important role to play. What the EU could do to play its role at the best and to the benefits of small holder farmers and producers? One concrete effort would be to seek and build on a regulation able to avoid the land concentration in the hands of a few. Land concentration translates indeed into the sequestration of the right  to food and is clearly a result of a lack of public coherent regulation. From their side, the representative of the Chief of Delegation of the European Union at FAO, Laurence Argimon Pistre, ensured they are quite satisfied with the adoption of the VGs, a tool that make them feel even stronger when dealing about land issues with single governments. She thinks also that  VGs can have a significant  impact on the EU Food Security Policy and programmes to be adopted in the very next future, PAC included. A weak reference to the willingness to financially support the follow up of the VGs was made, without specifications though on modalities and dimension of this support. Clearly in order to support the VGs application there is a need to achieve the backing of governments and of civil society both. 
Farmers  viewpoint: land concentration= farms disappearance
The commodification of the land is not a phenomena only related to the Southern world. The representative of farmers from ARI, Associazione Rurale Italiana- Italian Rural Association, an organization member of Via Campesina - Europa, Fabrizio Garbarino, highlights how commodification of land resulting in global land grab is as much a concern for European citizens as it is for farming communities outside Europe. 
Agriculture could be the lifeline for young people faced with the crisis in Europe, industry and services, but the trend is exactly the opposite: from 2003 to 2010 the agricultural sector has suffered a terrible concentration, with the disappearance of 20% of the farms. According to the data reported by Garbarino: 2.6 millions of farms are not able today to sustain farmers and producers. Several countries have seen their land significantly reduced and are forced to import high percentage of their food provision from abroad; Romania for instance is forced to import 80% of their food provision because of the land grabs. In Italy we have lost 27% of our arable land; 35% of it is purchased by non farmers actors and only 50% of the food is provided by Italian farms. 
Increasing investments: not only quantity matters
Investment in Agriculture became an hot topic since the explosion of food crisis in late 2007. In 2008 for the first time in 25 years the World Bank entitled its development Report  ‘Agriculture for Development’. There is a general consensus on the fact that financial support to agriculture over the past decades has been dramatically dropped down. Beyond the basic recognition that more investments for Agriculture are needed, Nora McKeon, coordinator of the EuropeAfrica campaign, explains how views on this issue have been pretty much diverging. From one side the need for more of Foreign Direct Investment, technology transfer and corporate management know-how; on the other side the awareness rising of two decades of failed policies to the benefit of the free market, industrial agriculture and corporate taking over on the global food system. The initiatives which has been taken in the direction of increasing investments in agriculture (the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme; Alliance for a Green Africa revolution; L’Aquila Declaration; GAFSP; The New Alliance; EU Food Security Policy Framework, to mention a few) do not always have implied the involvement of  farmers and recipient communities in a proper way and more often they are opening  up to corporations/private sector led agricultural investments to the detriment of small scale producers, the major food producers and investors, and also the most affected.

The G8 in L’Aquila and the New Alliance: an unclear path to follow
The G8 New Alliance for food security and nutrition was launched at Camp David in May, but nearly three years after L’Aquila summit, the G8 had met only between a fifth and a half of  their commitments. This way there is no clarity on the quality and the dimension of financial support to agriculture in accordance with long-terms investment plans developed  by African countries which already exist.
In this regard and according to the representative of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Marco Ricci, the situation is and would probably keep on going quite unclear.

When governments will be able to translate into practice coordinated and coherent policies and keep their own promises ?
This article reports on the seminar "Applying the Right to Food in the field. Towards food sovereignity. Access to land and agricultural investment" organized in Rome, 16th November 2012, by Terra Nuova and Crocevia as part of the EuropeAfrica campaign (www.europeafrica.info)