After a week of intense negotiations involving States, the private sector, NGOs and social movements, the chief actors in the negotiations reached a consensus at 21.30 on Friday 9th March on the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests. As mentioned previously, states are not legally bound by the guidelines, but their importance lies in affirming and putting pen to paper on fundamental rights, as well as establishing the rules that governments can build on to improve their legal systems.
In the text agreed Friday night the agricultural use of land and the need to protect small farmers is recognised: "This was a very complex cultural shift - said Antonio Onorati of the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty, which has participated
in all negotiation rounds - since so many States still regard food producers as people and families to be assisted, rather than as owners of fundamental rights with a crucial role."Another key topic of the discussions, besides land, was the issue of water and fishing. As emphasized by Rehema Bavuma, Ugandan representative of the World Forum of Fish Harvesters & Fish Workers (WFF), "artisanal fishing does not enjoy the fishing rights granted by national governments to intensive fishing. This creates a legal vacuum which leads to the detriment of local communities and small fishermen.
The Voluntary Guidelines represent an opportunity to fill this void."Whilst the outcome was not 100% satisfactory, the general feeling amongst civil society organisations was a positive one. From what has emerged from the delegates present at the negotiations, there were indeed many moments of tension threatening potentially uncertain success of the negotiations, as the battle – more political than technical – around the concept of "occupied lands" exposed continuing conflicts. A hot topic which, with a view to the Middle East and the Palestinian question, is returning to prominence in the global media following the Israeli bombing of Gaza.Another point with which civil society is not satisfied is linked to the phenomenon of ‘landgrabbing’, also known as ‘land grabs’. "African countries have made attempts to form a wall against these investments’’, explains Antonio Onorati. "However, the fact that concentration of land may threaten the food security of people has been recognised, the possibility to fix a limit regarding the extension of property is provided and the redistribution of land and agrarian reform is no longer taboo."The next step on the guidelines regards implementation: the FAO’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS) will convene in May in an extraordinary session. And it is here, perhaps, that the more difficult stage begins.
The road towards food sovereignty around the world and for all peoples is still very long. Confirmation of this is given by, amongst others, the financial news agency Bloomberg, which recently reported that food prices will continue to rise, thanks to speculators who continue to increase their speculation on agricultural goods.We see strong powers, speculative finance, and economic interests on the one hand, and the right to self-determination of local communities, together with the right to cultivation and food production, on the other.
We should not ignore, however, that adoption of such an important document represents a key step for the recognition of the rights of small and medium farmers in the South, but also in the North.
Damiano Sabuzi Giuliani is Policy Officer at CIDSE's Italian member FOCSIV-Volontari nel Mondo.