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Responsible governance of tenure, still relevant after 11 years of introduction

It’s 11 years now, since the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) endorsed the “Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT),” as a globally negotiated and agreed framework. It set the minimum standards for tenure governance, and provided guidelines for improving national systems of land administration, land management and land-use planning and development, in addition to forests and fisheries tenures.

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Purpose of the VGGT

The overarching goal of the VGGT is to achieve food security for all and to support the attainment of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security. The eradication of hunger and poverty, and the sustainable use of the environment, largely depends on how people, communities and others gain access to land, fisheries, forests and other natural resources.

The livelihoods of many, particularly the rural poor, are based on secured and equitable access to and control over these resources, which are the sources of food and shelter. They serve as the basis for socio-cultural and religious practices; and are significant in economic growth and development.

By providing guidance and information on internationally accepted practices and standards for systems that deal with the rights to use, manage and control land, fisheries and forests, the VGGT aim to improve tenure governance in these areas. Another aim is to contribute to the development and improvement of the policy, legal and institutional frameworks regulating the range of tenure rights that exist over these resources.

Additionally, the VGGT are to help strengthen the capacities and operations of implementing agencies including: judicial authorities, local governments, farmers and fishermen groups, small-scale producers, local communities, civil society, private sector, academia and all persons concerned with tenure governance as well as promote cooperation among these actors.

Key elements of the VGGT

The VGGT touch on all issues that have bearing on human interaction with land, its use and productivity, and sustainable management, while placing primary responsibility for responsible governance of tenure on the State and its actors as the duty bearers.

The five fundamental principles of the VGGT are that States should: recognise and respect all legitimate tenure right holders and their rights, whether formally recorded or not; safeguard legitimate tenure rights against threats, infringements and arbitrary loss of tenure rights including forced evictions and promote and facilitate the enjoyment of legitimate tenure rights.

The other principles are that the State should: provide access to justice to deal with infringements of legitimate tenure rights and provide prompt and just compensation, where tenure rights are taken for public purposes as well as prevent tenure disputes, violent conflicts and corruption in all forms, at all levels and in all settings.

They remind non-state actors and business enterprises of their responsibility to respect human rights and legitimate tenure rights.

The VGGT also highlight the principle of implementation, noting that respect for human dignity, non-discrimination, equity and justice, gender equality, holistic and sustainable approaches to natural resources exploitation and use, consultation and participation, are essential to contributing to responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests.

The Guidelines establish the relationship between responsible governance of tenure and the realization of human rights, food security, poverty eradication, sustainable livelihoods, social stability, housing security, rural development, and socio-economic growth, by placing tenure rights in the centre of human rights.

States are admonished to provide and maintain the policy, legal and organizational frameworks that promote responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests. These frameworks are dependent on, and supported by, broader reforms to the legal system, public service and judicial authorities.

Where States own or control public land, fisheries and forests, the VGGT encourage the State to determine the use and control of the resources within broader social, economic and environmental objectives, while recognising, respecting and protecting the legitimate tenure rights of individuals and communities, including customary tenure systems.

On investments, the VGGT, urge State and non-state actors to acknowledge that responsible public and private investments are essential to improving food security. Therefore, States should promote and support responsible investments in land, fisheries and forests that support broader socio-economic and environmental objectives under a variety of farming systems.

On recording or documenting tenure rights, the VGGT mandate States to provide the required registration, survey and mapping, and licensing systems for all legitimate tenure rights, in order to improve security of tenure rights and reduce tenure related conflicts, for the functioning of local societies and markets.

In States, where transboundary matters relating to tenure rights arise, parties should work together to protect such tenure rights, livelihoods and food security of the migrating populations, while on their respective territories. States and other parties should contribute to the understanding of transboundary tenure issues affecting communities, such as with rangelands or seasonal migration routes of pastoralists, and fishing grounds of small-scale fishers, which lie across international boundaries.

The VGGT additionally provide guidance for dealing with the nexus between climate change and tenure governance, and urge that laws, policies, strategies and actions, aim at preventing and responding to the effects of climate change do not undermine the security of legitimate tenure rights holders. Additional guidelines are provided to ensure that programmes aimed at dealing with potential impacts of natural disasters, also address related tenure issues.

The VGGT cover programmes aimed at addressing potential impacts of natural resources, and call for attention to be given to associated tenure issues.

Significance of the VGGT for Ghana’s land sector

The VGGT was formally introduced to Ghana’s land sector, during the National Land Conference held in December 2022, and at the Parallel session on “Transparency and Accountability in Land Administration.”

Coming 11 years after their endorsement, it is apt to ask if the VGGT are still relevant to the land sector in Ghana. The answer is YES. An examination of the Guidelines as outlined above, indicate that Ghana is already on the path of transition.

The VGGT confirm and strengthen on-going reforms within Ghana’s land sector including the establishment of the Lands Commission in 2008, as an umbrella body with four key technical divisions. The functions of the Commission and the Divisions together, provide a comprehensive institutional framework for land governance and land administration, covering almost every aspect identified in the VGGT such as – surveying and mapping, registration and recording of tenure rights, management of public lands, valuation, compulsory acquisition and compensation. These are complemented by the functions of other institutions like the Land Use and Spatial Planning Authority (LUSPA), the Forestry Commission and Water Resources Commission, thereby strengthening Ghana’s drive towards the aspirations of the VGGT.

The various Acts such as the Lands Commission Act, 2008 (Act 767), the Land Use and Spatial Planning Act, 2016 (Act 925), and the Land Act 2020 (Act 1036), together provide the required legal framework, the provisions of which are in line with the VGGT Principles.

Certainly, there is still a lot to be done towards attaining the ultimate goal of responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests for the benefit of all, with the goals of progressive realisation of the right to adequate food and food security, poverty eradication, sustainable livelihoods, social stability, housing security, rural development, environmental protection and sustainable socio-economic development. More work needs to be done on participation and inclusiveness in decision making processes in the management of land and other natural resources.

The Land Sector Multi-Stakeholder Platform for inclusive land governance (LSMSP), established by the 2022 National Land Conference, provide the appropriate forum for pursuing the application of the VGGT principles to the land sector and for monitoring the implementation of the recommendations of the Conference.

The current outstanding activity is a review of the 1999 National Land Policy – a recommendation of the 2022 Conference, which will surely be done in accordance with the provisions of the VGGT and will bring home the full application to the land sector in Ghana.

By Ama Kudom-Agyemang and Dr. Wordsworth Odame Larbi

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