Why land tenure security is not enough: the need for a radical, justice oriented framework for land and resource | Land Portal

LANDac International Conference 2022 Session Summary

Taking notice of the 10th anniversary of the CFS Tenure Guidelines (TGs) this year, contributors to the session debated in light of case studies in Colombia, Myanmar and the Sámi territory in Finland the intricacies of land tenure policies, as well as the limitations of projects funded by donor countries. To contribute to social, agrarian and environmental justice, tenure policies require an integrative, cross-cutting approach, which could be carried out through “5Rs”: recognition (of legitimate tenure rights), representation, redistribution, restitution and regeneration, to which resistance and recalibration could be added. Land, moreover, should be thought in relation to other aspects of the environment, such as water bodies.   


Key Takeaways

  • Instruments like the CFS TGs are valuable, but they are not self-interpreting nor self-implementing and can thus be used in many ways. This is exemplified by the different ‘streams’ described by Sai Sam in Myanmar (below). 

  • An integrated or ‘holistic’ approach to land policies is necessary to mitigate or revert inequalities and achieve environmental justice, as exemplified by the complexities in implementing the restitution law in Colombia — mentioned by the audience and elaborated upon by Itayosara. The restitution of individual plots, for instance, is not enough to remediate historical human rights violations. 

  • Nonetheless, projects funded by donors represented in the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development tend to privilege more ‘technical’ aspects of the TGs — such as record of tenure rights — which are often implemented in disconnection with the broader political factors that generate inequalities. 

  • The CFS TGs refer to ‘land, fisheries and forests’, but left outside water, for instance, or other elements of the environment that are also key to the livelihoods of many peoples. This was clear both in Anni’s presentation, which highlighted the complexities of the livelihoods of the Sámi people in Northern Finland, based on fishing, hunting and herding, and therefore also on rivers and rangelands broadly-speaking; and in Itayosara’s, which developed the case of the Nukak people in the Colombian Amazon. It is the left remaining nomadic people in the region, therefore not easily amenable to traditional approaches that focus on tenure security.

  • The ‘5Rs’, then, are a bundle of interrelated ethical and political principles that can be a useful starting point to approach land-related issues.

Presentation 1

Sylvia Kay

Actors have different interpretations of these policy documents and these have implications on the ground


  • 2022 is the 10th anniversary of the CFS TGs, which is a landmark document that can be the basis for a human-rights approach to tenure of land, fisheries and forests. 

  • However, actors have different interpretations of these policy documents and these have implications on the ground.

  • The case of the Global Donor Platform on Rural Development: it gathers most of the main donor countries, and they have disbursed almost USD 10 billion in TG-related projects around the world, listed in the ‘Land Governance Map’ database. It’s not a protagonist in its own right: more like a clearing house for policies among donors, in food systems, rural development, and land, to share knowledge, and as a platform for collaboration between these donors and selected partners.

  • In the database it is clear a ‘preference’ for aspects of the TGs more on the administrative side: $5.5 billion dollars went to ‘Record of tenure rights’ — less than half of that goes to other land-related provisions of the VGGT, such as redistributive reforms and restitution. 

  • There was a ‘peak’ in projects some years after the approval of the VGGT, and then a downward trend in the number of projects — although the vice-chair of the GDWGL says the map is not updated. This is part of an ongoing research that is leading to a publication in October, at the time of the CFS. 


Presentation 2

Agrarian-climate justice: the 5Rs in Colombia and in the indigenous peoples of Orinoquia-Amazonia corridor

Itayosara Rojas Herrero

Nomadism has been a fundamental tool in the maintenance of these cultural and ecosystems — recognising that is key to advance a climate and agrarian justice agenda.

  • Today’s forest is product of a historical interaction between nature and human beings, including settlers and the native populations — e.g. the Nukak. Residing between two rivers in the Amazon region, they were the last nomadic uncontacted community in the region. First contact in 1998, the ‘Nukak emergency’ — flu epidemic, abduction of children. 

  • The link between agrarian and the indigenous question: the control over indigenous peoples is still an ongoing process. 

  • the case of the Nukak community, for its location, is particularly complicated: 

  • How to alleviate the problems faced today? Deforestation, the loss of forest cover, soil degradation — because of the advance of unsustainable activities. 

  • the 5Rs as a start: 

    • redistribution: one of the most unequal regions of the continent, which enables unsustainable forms of production.

    • recognition of land rights beyond private property and land markets

    • restitution of land plots and restitution of rights — not only at the individual, but also at the community level. Not only in relation to the armed conflict, but to the dispossession generated by the colonial project in general. 

    • regeneration of land, soils and agroecological flows; taking into account the traditional activities of indigenous peoples 

    • resistance against advancing concentration of land ownership and export production practices

    • + recalibration of productive practices (oriented to the extractive and plundering economy) and in general the society-nature relationship. 

  • These can constitute a foundation for a politics of climate and agrarian justice. 


Presentation 3

Sai Sam

Successive national governments, completely ignored the TGs and went on to pass laws that undermine the rights of rural working people


  • 2022 the 10th anniversary of the TGs: an appropriate moment to look back and assess what have we achieved in terms of tenure

  • In Myanmar: these last 10 years have been an unprecedented moment of political fluidity and change, since the opening (and while it lasted) there was increased popular participation in politics. 

  • The TGs appeared in the same context as the opening-up of the economy, favouring foreign investments, for instance — but land conflicts remained unresolved.

  • 4 streams that deal and their approaches to the TGs:

    • one completely ignores them; 

    • the second uses it to recognise and map tenure claims by smallholders and ethnic communities — not questioning the broad pro-market institutional architecture;

    • the third takes the TGs as part of a broader political strategy the overall investor-friendly policies of the dominant current, defending the rights of ethnic native communities and of those most affected by the land rush — recognition, as in the 2nd, plus restitution to communities, + (to a lesser extent) land redistribution, environmental protection and regeneration. 

    • the fourth consists of organisations linked to the armed resistance formulating their own policies in their own areas of control, also in areas of mixed control. Particular emphasis on the provisions that would further environmental and agrarian justice. 

Presentation 4

Valkonen Anni


In a situation in which the Sámi do not have full land rights, the way to intervene is to ensure that they can participate and intervene in the planning processes.


  • The case of the Sámi homeland in Northern Finland 31,000 km2, in which 10,000 Sámi live nowadays.

    • they have the constitutional protection for their livelihoods — hunting, fishing, herding. They have their own parliament. 

    • However, the state administers the territory through a specialised agency — therefore they do not have full territorial rights. 

  • Different land governance and planning processes ongoing in the case of Sámi

    • e.g. land management and conservation plans

  • Since 10 years, the Sámi parliamentary has been working to implement the (?) Guidelines. Indigenous peoples set up a committee together and evaluate their impact on them. This is normally done at the end, but there is work being done to ensure that it happens in parallel — this has generated some tensions with Finns;

  • In a situation in which the Sámi do not have full land rights, the way to intervene is to ensure that they can participate and intervene in the planning processes 

  • The need to recognise different ontologies, worldviews

    • The current context: a huge tourism boom in the past years, before it was industrial forestry; also threat of mining in other parts of norther Finland 

  • Employment and revenue re the main rationales for these development endeavours — but they should not produce significant harm to these traditional livelihoods. Conditions for herding have been deteriorating, though. 

  • We can also analyse the dynamics of different development settings and discuss a way to go forward. 


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