Tag Archives: agriculture

Web-based education tool aims to mainstream land rights into international development thinking

by Anna Knox and Peter Veit

NB: This guest post was originally posted on Landesa’s Field Focus blog, and is cross-posted on TN with the kind permission of Landesa and the World Resources Institute. TN readers are advised of a number of other interesting recent postings on the Landesa blog, including a critique of the short-term thinking behind large-scale land acquisition in Africa, an analysis of the negative correlation between women’s land rights and domestic violence, and defenses of the virtues of small firms by Robert Mitchell and Bill Gates.

Regardless of what matters to you – access to education, universal food security, strengthening women’s rights, or a healthier environment – land rights plays a key role in achieving these goals.

When people have secure access to land, it can lead to:

  • Economic development through increased agricultural productivity,
  • Improved childhood nutrition,
  • Increased school attendance and investments in basic education,
  • Increased environmental stewardship,
  • Reduced potential for social instability and conflict,
  • Reduce vulnerability to domestic violence.

Focus on Land in Africa, a recently launched web-based tool focused on sub-Saharan Africa, aims to help policymakers and practitioners understand the links between land rights and critical development outcomes. Designed by World Resources Institute and Landesa as an online education tool, the site is interactive and uses slideshows, timelines, maps, videos and more in order to appeal to and engage users. Currently, the tool features lessons drawn from six sub-Saharan African countries: Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda. These lessons were developed with funding support provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. More countries will be featured as the tool grows.

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Week in links – week 17/2011

A somewhat abbreviated WiL this week as the family is on Åland for an extended Easter break.

BBC coverage of this week’s Communist Party congress in Cuba leads with the news that private property rights will be allowed again, though the details have yet to be released. The main rule at this point appears to be that “concentration of property” will not be permitted. One is tempted to wonder if part of the motivation is to cut off restitution claims by Cuban exiles. As a stratagem, this worked rather well in Cambodia, but that was the Eighties…

– The European Journal of International Law (EJIL) has released its latest issue online. The focus is on the ‘human dimension of international cultural heritage law’, with quite a lot on the restitution of cultural property but also a number of interesting articles on indigenous peoples’ rights, including to land.

– The New York Times reports that scientists met in Aleppo, Syria this week to develop strategies for combating new diseases afflicting wheat. Let us hope that they are not hit by any stray bullets from the strategies the Syrian security forces have developed for combating new diseases afflicting authoritarianism.

– Tim Dunne and Jess Gifkins do a nice job in OpenDemocracy of pushing along the debate on how the current Libya intervention may both support and undermine the new concept of ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P).

– Finally, the New York Times reported first on the pending collapse of a promising flurry of regional cooperation over damming the Mekong in Southeast Asia – and then its actual collapse.

Week in links – week 12/2011

The current march of historic events continues apace with the aftermath of the Sendai quake still causing headlines and a new chapter in the annals of R2P being written in the skies over Libya. Quite a few bits of less dramatic but very interesting HLP-related news as well, many detailed below.

Some interesting things coming up on TN as well – in addition to a number of individual guest-postings currently in the works, I am very excited to announce that Landesa has offered to periodically cross-post pieces from their excellent Field Focus blog. Look out for a debut piece early this week.

Turning to the news, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) just released their global overview for 2010. The conclusions are sobering, with a new rise in overall conflict-related internal displacement and the consolidation of a number of negative trends such as protracted displacement situations and displacement due to generalized violence (e.g. criminal activities as opposed to ordinary armed conflict).

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, recently submitted his annual report, this year with a plug for ‘agroecology’ – a cultivation technique identified by Mr. De Schutter after an “extensive review of the scientific literature” as most likely to help states “achieve a reorientation of their agricultural systems towards modes of production that are highly productive, highly sustainable and that contribute to the progressive realization of the human right to adequate food.” Kudos to Mr. De Schutter for sparing the rest of us the scientific literature and moving the debate over global agriculture in an interesting new direction.

In the wake of the triple catastrophe in Japan, the New York Times reports on how much of the affected coast was inhabited by elderly persons unlikely to rebuild. In the clinical terminology of climate change, the obvious question is whether the abandonment of many of these obliterated towns and villages will ultimately come to be seen as a form of adaptation to be replicated in other parts of the world. As the Times notes, it is hardly the first time the question has come up:

“We faced exactly the same question after Katrina,” said John Campbell, [a] visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo. “There was a big discussion about whether we should rebuild the Ninth Ward, since it was below sea level, and so on. In terms of economic rationality, it didn’t make any sense, really. But on the other hand, it’s where these people lived, and there were emotional reasons to do it.

Meanwhile the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) released its mid-term review, halfway through the ten year period envisioned for implementation of the Hyogo Declaration and Framework for Action. In an almost morbid quirk of timing, the document was released two days before the catastrophe in Japan, rendering its calls for greater attention to disaster risk eerily antiquated: “…the Hyogo Framework for Action is the world’s only blueprint for staving off losses caused by natural hazards, often overshadowed by news on losses from war, unemployment or inflation.” With all due respect to Col. Ghadafi’s current bout of attention-seeking, this shouldn’t be an issue now.

After quite a lot of coverage earlier this year, the renewed efforts to achieve land restitution in Colombia fell off TN’s radar somewhat. However, things seem to be moving forward – here, NPR reports on how some land has already been returned to displaced owners (it is unclear on what basis this has occurred) as well as on how restitution remains tied to broader agricultural reform goals.

Finally, having cited EurasiaNet earlier on the lengths gone to by Azerbaijan’s IDPs to avoid locally integrating in order to maintain their prospects for return, I have now found a companion piece on Transitions OnLine on how far Armenians in contested territories will go in order to maintain their competing claims:

The people here acknowledge that life in villages is difficult and boring, especially when there is no electricity. But they persevere. “This land needs to be tended,” Khachatryan says. “My children have to plant trees, harvest crops, and have children here to understand this is the homeland and it needs to be kept,” Khachatryan says, lighting the oil lamp with care.

Week in links – week 10/2011

First, the weblog equivalent of a moment of silence for the victims of the ongoing disaster in Japan. Six years after their adoption and sixteen years after the similarly devastating Kobe quake that gave rise to them, the Hyogo Declaration and Framework for Action on disaster risk reduction face a gruesomely concrete field test.

Second, on an administrative note, I should announce a likely hiatus in TN postings over the next ten days or so, during which I will be on mission in West Africa. I hope that a few guest-postings may land during that period (and they will be rushed to press) but its likely to be pretty quiet here otherwise.

Moving to news, UN housing rights rapporteur Raquel Rolnik focused on the right to housing in post-conflict and disaster reconstruction settings in her latest annual report. While I have not yet had the chance to review the report in detail, it is interesting to note that the press release focuses heavily on land rights for affected persons. From this perspective, there is likely to be some overlap with last year’s humanitarian guidance on post-disaster land issues (posted on by Esteban Leon here).

The FAO has released a new report on gender equality in agriculture that focuses on women’s unequal access to the various economic opportunities and inputs that would let them compete with men – and the enormous price tag of such bias in a hungry world where women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. If TN readers are willing to overlook one appalling pun (“a level ploughing field”), they will find much of interest.

The New York Times followed up on articles from October  2010 and January of this year with a more recent piece on the complications faced by NATO troops in Afghanistan attempting to compensate villagers for property destroyed in the course of counter-insurgency fighting.

Finally, following up on last week’s posting on the Economist’s special report on agriculture, I should point out that my plug for this week’s corresponding report on ‘property’ may have been a case of irrational exuberance. The new special report is a fascinating read on property as an investment, the ostensible safety of which appears increasingly fragile in an era of recurrent bubbles. Of great interest to me, but perhaps more in my capacity as a mortgage-holder in one of Europe’s few remaining bubble candidates than as a blogger.

Week in links – Week 46/2010

– The New York Times reports on extensive destruction of booby-trapped houses and damage to agricultural land through the construction of new military roads by NATO troops in Afghanistan. Compensation programs appear to be up and running but the verdict of one district governor is a little chilling: “We had to destroy them to make them safe.”

UNHCR reports to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly. The ReliefWeb headline says it all: “Voluntary Refugee Returns Worst in Two Decades; World Faces Quasi-Permanent Refugee Situations in Areas of Never-Ending Conflict, Third Committee Told.”

– In the latest twist in the protracted real estate crisis in the US, the New York Times reports on a new wave of adverse possession. By taking open possession of abandoned foreclosed homes, repairing them and even renting them out, private individuals are hoping to eventually meet the statutory requirements to receive title, with both positive and negative local impacts.

– On desertification and pastoralism in the Sahel, we have a bullish take from the EU-Africa Partnership and a more apocalyptic one on climate conflicts from Yale’s E360 publication.

– ASIL has made available an interesting introductory note to a recent property decision by the European Court of Human Rights – in this case, the Court confirmed that the definition of possessions under the European Convention includes final and enforceable arbitration decisions.

Refugees International urges African Union member-states to ratify last year’s groundbreaking Kampala Convention on the rights of IDPs. IDMC has a dedicated webpage on the Convention.

– Indonesia gets serious about climate change adaptation with the announcement of new guidelines on permanent relocations of populations from disaster areas too dangerous to allow return.

– UN Habitat issued its technical assessment of housing reconstruction needs after the Pakistan floods.

– FAO launched a new report and website on ‘climate-smart agriculture’, highlighting a mixture of traditional and high-tech approaches that raise yield and reduce carbon emissions.

– Finally, an interesting example of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) taking up ‘HLP’ issues in a case in which Georgia accuses Russia of violating its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) by virtue of its failure to allow ethnic Georgians to return to the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Russia is alleged to exercise effective control. A recent blog piece on this by the Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research provides some background and reminds of an interesting October 2008 interim measure in which the Court ordered the parties, among other things, to:

do all in their power, whenever and wherever possible, to ensure, without distinction as to national or ethnic origin,
(i) security of persons ;
(ii) the right of persons to freedom of movement and residence within the border of the State ;
(iii) the protection of the property of displaced persons and of refugees …

The week in links – week 40/2010

A fairly modest crop after a busy week:

  1. Oxfam’s turn to ring the alarm on the numerous risks entailed by Southern Sudan’s upcoming referendum …
  2. … and to promote reconstruction of the agricultural sector in Haiti in a new briefing paper.
  3. UNHCR comments on how protracted conflict situations are creating a ‘new global refugee’ population.
  4. FAO and WFP comment on how protracted crises involving chronic hunger and food insecurity affect twenty-two countries worldwide “due to a combination of natural disasters, conflict and weak institutions”.

Admin note – FAO on Haitian agriculture and upcoming guest-blog on the Quilombos case in Brazil

Following on to my prior post on Haiti, FAO has now reported that rural reconstruction continues to lag behind in Haiti, primarily due to lack of funding. In doing so, the FAO describes its cooperation with the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture and “over 170 non-governmental and international organizations” (!) in the agricultural cluster, providing an interesting example of an attempt to make the occasionally arcane terminology of humanitarian reform a bit more accessible to the general public.

Also interesting is the fact that investments in rural agriculture continue to be justified both on the basis of the decentralization concept and food security. In the words of FAO Senior Emergency and Rehabilitation Coordinator for Haiti Etienne Peterschmitt, “[g]reater investment in agriculture and the creation of jobs in rural areas are needed urgently to stem the flow of displaced people back into Port-au-Prince and to support food security throughout the country.” In addition, the FAO remains cognizant of the strain that hosting IDPs has placed on rural families:

“Immediately after the disaster hit in January we focussed on areas directly affected by the earthquake,” said Cristina Amaral, Chief of FAO Emergency Operations Service. “Now we are focussing on assisting host families whose coping mechanisms were severely strained by the influx of displaced persons into their communities and to prepare for the hurricane season.”

In other news, I am happy to announce that TN will soon be hosting a guest post on the Quilombos case in Brazil by Leticia Osorio and César Augusto Baldi. The post will give a thorough background briefing on the case involving the Quilombos indigenous people that is currently pending before the Supreme Court of Brazil. The forthcoming decision will determine the constitutionality of Presidential Decree 4887 of 2003 which regulates the procedure for granting property titles to Quilombo communities over the lands they occupy. The authors have also promised a follow-up guest posting once the Court’s decision is issued.

Back to the land for displaced persons?

by Rhodri C. Williams

I was recently struck by a CSM commentary on peace-building in Liberia by Greg Mills. Mr. Mills heads the Brenthurst Foundation in Johannesburg which is, by its own terms, dedicated to “strengthening Africa’s economic performance”. They operate in an advisory capacity in a number of African countries including Liberia, and appear to be juggling any number of initiatives, ranging from extracting applicable lessons from economic reforms in Georgia to improving corporate social responsibility in Liberia based on African principles. So it wasn’t too much of a surprise that the thrust of the CSM comment was the need to, in effect, improve attitudes and end a wartime culture of dependency:

Making an immediate impact after the conflict ends is relatively easy. Taking things to the next level involves more than providing potable water, roads, ports, and electricity, however challenging this may be. It requires aquiring the soft infrastructure of training, skills, work ethic, and mind-set right in getting Liberians working again.

What was striking was not so much this general diagnosis of what ails Liberia but rather the cure that was then put forward. In essence, Liberians are advised to seek their fortune in agriculture:

Right now, Liberia cannot feed itself and there is little appetite to work the land. But if Liberia is to be a sustained success story, it will have to get people working on the land where its biggest comparative advantage exists.

Low population density, rich soil, and plenty of water make it the perfect location for growing rice and other staples. As Patrick Mazimhaka, a veteran Rwandan and African Union politician notes, “One thing we have not got right is how difficult it seems to be for people to go back to agriculture after long wars.”

The author goes on to acknowledge the significant obstacles – insecure tenure, persistent disputes and ethnic schisms – that complicate such a proposal in Liberia. However, he concludes by noting that the inculcation of a culture of responsibility could provide the solution. While this was a well-put if slightly paternalistic argument, the device of encouraging a return of urban internally displaced persons (IDPs) to agriculture seems to play on an almost romantic idea of national renewal through a return to the yeoman virtues of hard work and self-sufficiency. It also seemed to strike a chord with efforts underway in Haiti, posted on earlier here, to ensure that those displaced to the countryside are encouraged to remain there rather than drifting back to overcrowded camps in the cities directly affected by the January 12 quake.

As many readers will be aware, these proposals take their place in a protracted debate about the role of return as a “durable solution” to displacement which has been rolling along since the early 1990s. The 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the war in Bosnia posited return as a means of undoing the effects of the conflict and included property restitution as an explicit device to bring return about. Ultimately, many who worked in Bosnia, myself included, came to the view that encouraging individual choice about whether to return or resettle was both more meaningful and more challenging than focusing on return, per se.

However, a  preference for return continued to crop up in international policy, arguably culminating in the 2005 adoption of the Pinheiro Principles on property restitution for refugees and displaced persons (which clarify that property remedies cannot be held hostage to return, but place tight restrictions on when compensation can be allowed in lieu of restitution – effectively prioritizing remedies that would allow for return). Since 2005, there has been something of a backlash, perhaps most explicitly expressed by ODI in its recent policy brief on land disputes and humanitarian action:

In the aftermath of war, humanitarian efforts tend to focus on activities that aim to restore the pre-war status quo. These efforts are based on the assumption that there is a clear distinction between war and peace. In reality there is no clear-cut division…. Furthermore, violent conflict destroys not only political, economic and social structures, but is itself a process of transformation in which alternative systems of economic accumulation, social regulation and political governance emerge. These changes are part of an ‘accelerated transition’ that invariably accentuates processes of change that in most cases are already under way, and that are in any event irreversible. Returning to the status quo ante is usually impossible and may in fact not be desirable if it fails to tackle the grievances that led to the conflict in the first place, or that have emerged during the conflict.

In most cases, this ‘accelerated transition’ takes the form of urbanization through displacement, as seen in Liberia. And there is certainly evidence, all rural idylls aside, that urbanization may not only be better for the environment and checking world population growth, but that it may also, if properly managed, provide enormous benefits in terms of improved educational opportunities and living standards for rural migrants, forced or voluntary.

Indeed, coming from South Africa, Greg Mills of the Brenthurst Foundation should be well aware of the problem of getting people to go back to agriculture after long absences. In recent months, the government there has appeared to back away from a highly ambitious goal of redistributing 30% of arable land to blacks by 2014. According to a recent article in the Mail and Guardian, this has come about not only because of the high prospective costs this would impose, but also because of the insight that more than 90% of the nearly 6 million hectares of land previously acquired for redistribution is now fallow, crimping Government revenues and raising food security concerns. In response, the Ministry of Agriculture is not only focusing on support and mentoring programs for new farmers but has also issued a controversial proposal to declare arable land a “national asset”, forcing redistribution beneficiaries to productivity through a “use it or lose it” approach.

The South African redistribution program – which includes a direct restitution component – was meant to respond to the near complete dispossession of black Africans beginning with the 1913 Natives Land Act. Confined to arid tribal ‘homelands’ and peri-urban shantytowns, many South African blacks found themselves in an effective state of protracted internal displacement at the fall of the apartheid regime. However, the current debate over land redistribution may represent a dawning realization that truly durable solutions to such dislocation are likely to result from supporting the choices of those affected themselves. As I described in an earlier publication for ICTJ, the political opposition questioned whether land distribution – and the underlying dream of a black return to agrarian livelihoods – truly resonated with shantytown residents, many of whom may have come to see their future in exclusively urban terms.

In any case, recent international policy documents such as the Framework on Durable Solutions for IDPs (see post here) reinforce the principle that informed choice lies at the heart of durable solutions to displacement. Policy preferences can come in to shape such choices, but the Framework stipulates that they must be “based on serious and objective reasons” (para. 30) and goes on to provide illustrations and criteria that underscore the exceptional nature of permissible restrictions on the right to freedom of movement and choice of residence for IDPs (see paragraphs 29 to 33).

In a sense, this makes Liberia a resolvable conundrum. The rural economic potential appears to be there and if it can be harnessed in a manner that creates tangible opportunities for those now uprooted in urban centers, returns to the land will surely follow. However, actively promoting such returns at a time when the risks involved remain very concrete and the opportunities still notional could put the cart before the horse. The goal should not be to repopulate the countryside by reshuffling displaced people but to end displacement by creating the conditions for sustainable rural return.

Followup on Myanmar

The NY Times ran an analytical piece today on Myanmar’s highly choreographed political – and more recently economic – opening. The Times’ both supports and problematizes my earlier prediction that liberalization under such terms could lead to rapid development that would neither be broad-based nor pro-poor, along the lines of Cambodia’s recent history.

On the negative side, historian Thant Myint-U is quoted as saying the democracy movement has effectively been sidelined, leaving the struggle for political and economic power to be fought out among factions of the elite connected with the current regime:

“Outside the country, the situation is perceived as a simple one where the army is trying to perpetuate its own rule,” he said. “Inside, everyone knows that intense competition will be under way within the elite, involving not only the military, but also retired army officers, senior bureaucrats and a rising business class.”

On the other hand, the nature of this competition is such that attempts to co-opt ordinary people may actually do them some long-term good. According to the report, such efforts include attempts to increase rice exports by supporting local farmers.

Military officers are campaigning for the elections as if their careers depended on it, announcing dozens of projects, including the plan for 24-hour electricity in Yangon, that they hope will win the affection of a population that in many parts of the country despises them.

One crucial change has taken place in the rice industry, which has the potential to raise the income of farmers, the backbone of the country who make up two-thirds of the population. Myanmar was once the world’s largest rice exporter, a title now held by neighboring Thailand.

“Give me 10 years and we’ll be back,” said Tin Maung Thann, an adviser to a newly created rice industry association and the president of Myanmar Egress, a nonprofit development group. “Of course we can become a big rice exporter.”

A series of programs sponsored by foreign governments in the Irrawaddy Delta has helped rice-growing villages rebound from the damage of a cyclone that killed at least 130,000 people two years ago. Farmers are being trained to use fertilizers, better rice seed and more modern farming techniques.

The government has empowered the rice industry association with management of the country’s rice stocks, a crucial change from the past when generals who feared rice shortages shut down exports with the stroke of a pen, overriding any contracts that rice traders had signed with their customers.

This approach stands in stark contrast to Cambodia where economic growth policies related to land have tended to involve concessions and sales, often to elite or foreign interests and almost always to the detriment of local smallholders. Given Myanmar’s history, allowing rice farmers to manage their own affairs may ultimately come to be seen as a more significant grant of power to the people than the ballots to be cast in the forthcoming questionable elections.