U.S.-Chaired Negotiations to Address Food Security Reach Successful Conclusion

Late last Friday night (March 9, 2012), the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) Open Ended Working Group on the Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests in the Context of National Food Security completed negotiations. This conclusion represents the culmination of over two years of work to produce a framework document for countries to use in the establishment of laws and policies which clarify and secure tenure rights in support of food security.

Chaired by the United States under the leadership of Dr. Gregory Myers, and conducted in a highly participatory manner, the negotiations took place over a ten month period beginning in June 2011. Throughout the process, more than 95 countries and over 30 civil society organizations debated tenure issues from their individual perspectives. Discussions began with a shared belief that secure tenure rights to land, fisheries and forests are essential in promoting economic growth and improving food security.

Drafting language to support this common belief was not an easy task. National policies and customs on tenure vary widely from country to country, even between countries in the same region. Despite these differences, members and participants worked tirelessly to reach a consensus. The final product is a negotiated document that accommodates differing viewpoints on ‘Best Practices’ and introduces a broad range of structures that can be relevant in all parts of the world.

Recognizing this accomplishment, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Agencies in Rome, Ertharin Cousin, said, “I applaud the important consensus reached by the CFS on the Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests as a major step forward in the fight against hunger. It represents a milestone in the work of the reformed CFS.”

As participants in the negotiation, organizations from the CFS Civil Society Mechanism added tremendous value to the process by citing experience and stories from the field. Sofia Monsalve, of the FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN), expressed appreciation for the U.S. in its role as chair of the negotiations.

“Negotiating these guidelines under U.S. leadership was an extraordinary experience,” Ms. Monsalve said. “I deeply appreciate Dr. Myers’ capacity to listen and to find ways to incorporate broad social participation and multilateralism. As a result, I view U.S. officials with great respect and encourage officials of all powerful and less powerful nations to follow the Chair’s example.”

Many of the CFS member countries suffer from weak governance related to land, fisheries, and forests, and that weakness contributes to food insecurity. Now, after being involved in the negotiation process, these countries have a document to support tenure reforms, and government officials have a greater understanding of tenure problems and solutions. The process has demonstrated the importance of addressing issues of land tenure and resource rights to improve food security.

Once adopted, these Guidelines will have a profound impact on women. As the FAO recently noted, “women are the backbone of the rural economy” contributing significant time and labor to growing food for their families. However, in many parts of the world women do not have secure rights to land or natural resources, leading to 20 to 30 % less agricultural production.

Elisabeth Kvitashvili, USAID Humanitarian Affairs Counselor at the U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome and Vice-Chair of the negotiations, highlighted  the significance of this: “Having seen over the past 15 years the many hardships imposed on women, especially those without equal access to the land they were working, whether in Honduras, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Afghanistan or most recently Southern Sudan, I am particularly proud of this moment when the international community came together to provide substantive guidance to governments on the tenure of land, fisheries and forests. These guidelines will help ease the plight of many of these women.”

In the coming weeks, the negotiated document will be translated into Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish so that it can be forwarded to a special session of the CFS for formal adoption in May 2012.

“By establishing ‘Best Practices’ related to land tenure and land use, the Voluntary Guidelines, if consulted by countries engaged in Land Tenure Policy, will ensure that those with formal and informal tenure rights will have greatly improved long-term rights to land and other natural resources,” said Cousin. “As a consequence the number of food insecure people in the world will be significantly reduced.”