Policy and Advocacy on the Right to Land

Social movements and major figures in the global food movement have responded to the increasing threat of land grabs and highlight specific opportunities for resistance. Learn about these efforts and what is being done in response.

While some of the following tactics ensure tangible changes, it’s important to note that they do not all address the deeper issues of community sovereignty at the heart of the global struggle for land and resources.

Some mechanisms for change include political and advocacy work:

At the level of national governments: Depending on the country, working with local government structures to identify and halt these exploitative large-scale land acquisitions is a possible avenue for policy change. In some countries, government or local elites are colluding with other corporations to secure land grabs – and their cut of the profits.

For example, the “Dakar Appeal Against the Land Grab” was made in Dakar, Senegal, at the World Social Forum in 2011. It calls for an immediate stop to land grabs, urging governments to recognize and regulate land rights. The appeal also asks governments to reject the World Bank’s set of principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI) which are too weak, and instead to uphold the commitments made at the International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD) (click here to read about the commitments), which would compel governments to enact agrarian reform beneficial to all stakeholders.

Another important precedent to change is underscored by in the report “Large-scale land acquisitions and leases: A set of minimum principles and measures to address the human rights challenge.” In this report, de Schutter urges investors to adhere to certain minimum requirements that would avoid violations of the right to food. Examples of such requirements include that they should be handled transparently, and that the local population should benefit from revenue being made from the usage of the land, among others requirements.


At the level of corporate accountability: Agricultural commodities commonly linked to land grabs are sugar, soy, and palm oil – commodities food and beverage companies rely on as key ingredients. Since these crops are a core part of the industrial food chain, this opens several levers for political pressure and policy change.

Since these land grabs are pushing farmers off land and often in ways that are brutally violent, the corporations sourcing the sugar and commodities must be held accountable for the consequences of their policies. When faced with public pressure that exposes unjust practices and blatant human rights violations in its supply chain, corporations have begun to respond to political pressure around the world. One such example of a successful campaign to shift policies and institutional practices is Oxfam’s Behind the Brands efforts.

For example, Oxfam is calling on companies to take the following steps:

  1. “Know and show” risks of land grabs within the companies’ supply chains. Conduct and publish impact assessments related to land with the full participation of affected communities. Disclose countries from which the company sources these commodities.
  2. Commit to “zero tolerance” for land grabbing and include it in supplier codes of conduct, including for franchisees. Commit to sector specific sustainable production standards for sugar, soy, and palm oil.
  3. Advocate for governments and traders to address land grabbing and support responsible agricultural investments.

Both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have signed on by way of shareholders agreements to address land grabs in its supply chain in 2014. That said, many argue the idea that ‘sustainable production standards’ for these crops is possible, much less an appropriate goal in shifting to a fair and sustainable global food system. While these are political levers meant to change practices in a structural way, they are not directly addressing the larger system of industrial food as inherently undermining local farmers’ rights and local food sovereignty.


At the level of local community struggle: Other strategies for policy change around land and resource grabs can make strides to secure rights, protections, investments, etc – but they are not fundamentally dismantling a system that relies on massive export commodity crops to produce industrial food and fuel. For this reason, it’s important to recognize that truly putting decisions and rights around land, local waters, and agriculture back into the hands of those working the land and fishing the seas means working with these communities first. Only by supporting social movements on the frontline of this struggle will the demands and policy changes reflect those whose livelihoods, traditions, and sovereignty are at stake.

For peasant leaders and local movements, reclaiming, protecting and securing their land is a dangerous and often life threatening position. As allies, we can directly follow the demands and daily struggles of local groups via the internet – and speak up when rights are being violated, we can accompany human rights delegations, and we can ask communities what type of support is most needed at a given time.

Important examples include:

“Access to Land and the Right to Food”
This piece prepared by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, details how enacting agrarian reform, and the promotion of development models that do not lead to eviction, can help uphold indigenous peoples’, smallholders’, and other land based groups’ right to food.

“Movements Unite in Mali, Confronting Powerful Interests”
The Community Alliance for Global Justice reports from Sélingué, Mali, on the first conference against land grabs which took place on November 2011. The conference was attended by more than 250 participants from all over the world. To view photos from the conference, click here.


Updated 12/2014