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How should we apply the Voluntary Guidelines on Tenure? Takeaways from a training session ahead of the 10th anniversary of the VGGT

TMG Research hosted a VGGT Training in August 2021, focusing on the practical implementation of the Guidelines within its partner countries. This article summarizes the key takeaways.

by Elena Müller, Frederike Klümper | 29 September 2021

How should we apply the Voluntary Guidelines on Tenure? Takeaways from a training session ahead of the 10th anniversary of the VGGT
In many parts of the world, increasing external pressures, including climate change, urbanization, and largescale land grabs limit people’s access to land resources. Those defending their access to land are increasingly at risk: a new report from Global Witness counts 227 land and environmental defenders killed in 2020, a figure which is certainly an underestimate. There is more than ever a pressing need to respect and protect legitimate tenure rights for all, and therefore an urgent need to strengthen responsible land governance which recognises the direct connection between land and human rights.  
The FAO's Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests (VGGT) are a milestone agreement in the land governance sector and a key framework for TMG's work. While the achievements in the VGGT application are fundamental, with 853 programs (137 active, 716 completed) in 144 partner countries as reported by the Global Donor Working Group on Land, there is still much to be done for the Guidelines upcoming 10th anniversary in 2022. The VGGT's application is challenged by their voluntary nature and the lack of transparent monitoring schemes limiting the responsibilities of policy makers and institutions in the land governance field.
To contribute to the VGGT application, TMG Research offered a training to project partners from Benin, Burkina Faso, Kenya, and Malawi. The two trainers, Babette Wehrmann and Paul Munro-Faure and about 40 participants from CSOs, human rights institutions and government entities jointly discussed their experiences and activities for strengthening responsible land governance and the VGGT application. The training demonstrated the need to concentrate on the following three objectives: capacity building, the monitoring of land governance and human rights as well as the fostering of multi-stakeholder platforms.
Comprehending the VGGT: Raising awareness and capacity.
The VGGT Training participants pointed to several gaps in VGGT capacity development materials and approaches: Firstly, sources for VGGT capacity building need to be contextualized to national and local levels. Secondly, different stakeholders need to benefit from them, so materials must be adapted to different literacy levels and have non-digital versions. Lastly, various stakeholders need to be approached to ensure that diverse communities consider the VGGT in their work. Among others, the following need to be consulted: religious- and traditional leaders, CSOs and governmental actors. To approach governments and the judiciary it is pivotal to highlight the intersection of land tenure with key policy issues such as climate change, food security, and inequality as well as to connect the VGGT to African Union policy frameworks and binding human rights law.
Implementing the VGGT: Monitoring tools improvement and collaborative multi-stakeholder platforms.
Most of the training participants stated that they never or only occasionally use monitoring tools to assess the land governance situation within their national or local context. They all agree that a monitoring framework focusing on the intersection of human rights and land governance conflicts would heavily support their work. The VGGT training participants provided examples of human rights violations from their countries within the land governance sector:
  • Abuse of power violating the right to equality: Land grabbing by traditional leaders and other powerful members of society. Corruption in land allocation by government officials.
  • Violating the right to non-discrimination: Between men and women as well as towards youth in the distribution of agricultural resources, inheritance, and land rights. The failure to consider pastoral populations' needs in land policy at the national and local level as well as the poor allocation of classified forest plots for agriculture.
Existing policies and regulations on land, forests, and fisheries within the training participants’ country contexts need to be further monitored. Their level of inclusivity towards marginalized stakeholders needs to be assessed, and further evidence about women's access to land must be gathered. The same goes for existing multi stakeholder platforms. They need to represent local and marginalized communities to ensure that they have a voice within the discussion and gain insights into the VGGT and national policy frameworks directly affecting them. Existing multi stakeholder platforms must increase and activate their membership. For the longevity of MSPs, their financing should not be project-bound, and the participants must be compensated via their employment.
Conclusion: Key considerations for the VGGT application.
There are many ways in which different stakeholders can further the application of the VGGT. For the training participants, capacity building, monitoring and the fostering of MSPs are the areas to concentrate on in the context of the upcoming 10th VGGT anniversary. No matter which focus area is chosen, the following underlined by one of the trainers is key: Actors need to realize the scale of tenure challenges and that many development challenges have tenure at their core. The VGGT's sure foundations are enforceable human rights.
VGGT Training participants
TMG Research would like to thank all the participants and trainers for successfully completing the VGGT Training!

Written by Elena Müller, Frederike Klümper

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