UN says nations endorse anti-land grab policy

Voluntary guidelines to combat "land grabbing" and safeguard the rights of people to own or access land and forests have been endorsed Friday by a committee on world food security, a U.N. food agency said.

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization said the guidelines outline "principles and practices" that governments can refer to when making laws and administering farmland, fisheries and forest rights.

"Land grabbing" concerns have figured in several U.N. meetings in recent years aimed at reducing world hunger and ensuring the poor around the global have enough access to land, forests or fisheries, at least to feed their families. The term refers to large-scale acquisitions of forests, farmland and other agriculture areas, including by industrial-scale agribusinesses, in Latin America, Asia and Africa, often to the detriment of indigenous inhabitants.

The U.N. agency said consultations began in 2009 and led to intergovernmental negotiations that resulted in the guidelines.

The aim of the guidelines is to "promote food security and sustainable development by improving secure access to land, fisheries and forests and protecting the rights of millions of often very poor people," the agency said in a statement.

The agency's director-general, Jose Graziano da Silva, hailed the development as the "first-ever global land tenure guidelines. We now have a shared vision."

Covered by the guidelines are investments in agriculture, recognition and protection of legitimate tenure rights, best practices for registration and transfer of tenure rights and managing expropriations and restitution of land "to people who were forcibly evicted in the past," as well as the rights of indigenous communities, the agency said. "Investment models exist that do not result in the large-scale acquisition of land, and these alternative models should be promoted," it said.

The U.S. diplomatic mission to the Rome-based U.N. food agencies in a statement said the U.S. government "welcomes and supports" the voluntary guidelines. It added in a statement that the guidelines provide a "much needed" set of principles and practices, and particularly help women facing "major obstacles" to land rights.

It is now up to the nations which endorsed the guidelines to implement them.

The aid group Oxfam, which pressed for the urgent implementation of the guidelines by nations (both rich and poor), was among the many non-governmental organizations involved in negotiations for the guidelines. It worried about "growing competition for natural resources and land grabbing continuing unchecked."

"In recognizing the land rights of small-scale food producers who are crucial if we are to feed everyone, the guidelines are an important step towards a more equitable and hunger-free world," Oxfam said in a statement.