Why Does It Matter Who Has Rights to Land, Fisheries and Forests?

27 June 2018 (FAO)* Growing crops, fishing, harvesting fruits and nuts from the forests are just some examples of the activities that millions of people do daily to get food to eat or to earn a living. But when their rights to that land or those natural resources aren’t recognized, livelihoods and food sources can disappear from one day to the next.  


Sometimes because of custom or law, women do not have equal rights to land and other resources. Tenure rights help to enforce women’s equality. ©FAO/B. Geers

Rights to land, forests and fisheries can mean the difference between poverty and income, between going hungry and being satiated. These rights, also called tenure rights, can change people’s lives. Here’s how:

1. People can’t produce food without access to land and other natural resources.

Tenure rights, i.e. rights to land or other natural resources, define who can use what resources for how long and under what conditions. When people have limited or insecure rights to land and other natural resources, they can’t produce the food they need to feed themselves or to earn an income. Helping people secure their rights to land and resources means helping ensure they are able to provide for themselves.

2. Tenure rights help to enforce women’s equality. 

In many countries, either because of custom or law, women do not have equal rights to land and other resources. Widows, for example, may lose the land they have been living or working on if laws prevent them from inheriting it from their husbands.


Sometimes because of custom or law, women do not have equal rights to land and other resources. Tenure rights help to enforce women’s equality. ©FAO/Joan Manuel Baliellas 

3. Secure access to land often means having access to water.

Water is crucial to the survival of any community. As more and more regions are becoming water scarce, having secure access to water is vital. When land rights are taken away or sold, people can also lose access to their water supply. This can impact the lives and livelihoods of the people not just on that land but in the whole region.

4. Tenure rights protect indigenous peoples’ cultural heritage.

Lands and other natural resources that belongs to indigenous peoples have often been passed down and lived on for decades. Rights to these lands tend to be customary, or traditional, rather than formally recognized. Recognizing legitimate customary rights helps to protect the heritage of indigenous peoples and to ensure that their traditional knowledge, knowledge that is pivotal in the fight against hunger, is passed on to the next generation.

5. Recognizing tenure rights helps to ensure that land transfers don’t leave people landless.

Secure tenure rights are a precondition for any legitimate land deal. However, there are many cases where people have been using land based on customary rights, yet these rights have not been legally recognized and the state has remained the legal owner of that land.

This means that the state can transfer this property to foreign or national investors, dispossessing people from land they have customarily used. When people’s tenure rights are recognized, their interests need to be taken into consideration in any proposed transfer.

In many places, people live and work on land that has been passed down through generations. These customary rights have sometimes not been legally recognized and the state can transfer this property to other investors, turning people out from the land they have always used. ©FAO/Mountain Partnership

6. Secure tenure rights can help prevent conflict.

Hunger and poverty can lead to conflict or migration. Conflicts can arise when it is unclear who has rights to natural resources or when people cannot feed their families. Tenure rights help to address these underlying causes of conflict. One of the main components in the success of the peace process in Colombia, for example, is land restitution and land rights.

7. Tenure rights help protect the environment.

When something belongs to you, you take better care of it. Knowing that you are responsible for the future of something allows you to plan and invest in it for the long run. By taking care of these resources, we are better protecting the environment.

The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenurerecognize and address the impacts that tenure rights have especially on vulnerable and marginalized people.

These guidelines, which came about through global consensus, apply equally to developed and developing countries and serve as a set of actionable standards, principles and practices for governments, the private sector, farmers and civil society.

Learn More

*SOURCE: FAOUN Food and Agriculture Organization. Go to ORIGINAL

2018 Human Wrongs Watch




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