Three Years of the Voluntary Guidelines: Where Are We and Where Are We Going?

Today marks the three-year anniversary of the endorsement of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT). The endorsement of the VGGT in 2012 represented an unprecedented step in recognizing the importance of improving land and other resource governance systems as a strategy for enhancing food security, promoting sustainable development, limiting conflict, and reducing extreme poverty. The U.S. Government chaired the Open-Ended Working Group that developed the Guidelines through a two-year multi-stakeholder negotiation process that included representatives from donor countries, host governments, multi-lateral development agencies, civil society, and the private sector. These negotiations led to the unanimous adoption of the VGGT by the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

The VGGT provide a framework that governments, civil society, and the private sector can use in developing policies, legislation, and programs that promote improved land and resource governance. While much has been accomplished over the past three years, more can be done. The ultimate value of the VGGT will be determined by the extent of their implementation and measured in improved development outcomes for women, men, and children around the globe.

Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting an online panel discussion to highlight implementation efforts by a variety of key stakeholders. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) was represented on the panel by Dr. Paul Munro-Faure, the International Land Coalition (ILC) was represented by Ms. Annalisa Mauro, and Dr. Joan Kagwanja represented the Land Policy Initiative (LPI) – a joint program of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the African Development Bank and the African Union.

During the hour-long conversation, panelists discussed both the successes and the challenges experienced over the past three years while implementing the VGGT. A key message from Dr. Munro-Faure was that the VGGT has fundamentally changed the global discourse in the land tenure sector and has fostered partnerships between donors, governments, and civil society, which traditionally has been one of the most intractable obstacles to addressing land challenges. Dr. Kagwanja observed that the VGGT are a tool to help provide a framework for implementing the African agenda on land in alignment with Framework and Guidelines on Land policy in Africa. Finally, Ms. Mauro noted that the VGGT have subsequently been used by ILC to build consensus at the regional level with various stakeholders.

This week is ILC’s Global Land Forum in Dakar, Senegal, the theme of which is “Land Governance for Inclusive Development, Justice and Sustainability: Time For Action.” The Forum will bring together over 500 grassroots organizations, activists, local and international NGOS, researchers, multilateral organizations, and government agencies from around the world. At this year’s conference, ILC members will be adopting a new Strategy (2016-21), which will place implementation of the VGGT as the primary goal of ILC.

USAID has been a strong supporter of the development and implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines. USAID currently is investing $300 million in land tenure programs in 24 countries that are helping to implement many of the principles and practices outlined in the VGGT. As demonstrated through our panel discussion, USAID is not alone. FAO, ILC, LPI and many other donors and organizations continue to work with governments and at country-level to ensure that the VGGT are realized.

Additionally, the Global Donor Working Group on Land, established to coordinate activities among donors and development agencies, strives to improve access to secure land tenure and property rights for people all over the world, with an emphasis on vulnerable groups, including women and indigenous people. Three years after the adoption of the Voluntary Guidelines, I look forward to many more years of productive partnerships around improving land and resource governance and strengthening property rights.