United NationsDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development


FAO Main Message on Land: Policy Options to Expedite Implementation
The Commission on Sustainable Development Seventeenth Session (CSD-17)
Intergovernmental Preparatory Meeting for CSD-17 (23-27 February 2009, New York)
1. Land tenure policies and land use planning processes have very important impacts on land
users? capacity to manage soil, water and biological resources and maintain vital ecosystem
services. Moreover, they affect our capacity to meet the demands of expanding populations
and economic development for increased agricultural and forest productivity while
maintaining the resource base and healthy ecosystems. With insecurity of land tenure, farmers
and pastoralists have less incentive to invest in sound land management techniques, since they
risk not being able to reap the future rewards. Poor land governance and policies that
undermine tenure security, such as periodic land redistribution as used in some countries, tend
to diminish investments and encourage unsustainable practices of land management that
generate short-term gains at the cost of environmental health.
2. Secure access to land for the poor and vulnerable is increasingly affected by escalating
demands/ competition for land, as well as by shocks and stresses induced by climate change,
violent conflicts and natural disasters, along with more structural trends such as population
growth and urbanization. Weak land governance (in formal land administration and customary
tenure arrangements) exacerbates the adverse consequences of these trends for the poor.
Implications are inadequate protection of land rights, lack of incentives, equity and conditions for
investment in land management, use of land inappropriately and below its potential, reducing
capacity to create wealth and ensure livelihood security. Tenure arrangements based on the
principles of good governance and property rights are central to the sustainable management of
natural resources, ensuring food security livelihoods and reducing conflicts and poverty. This
requires: (i) secure access to land rights for communities or individuals, taking into account
marginalized groups (such as indigenous peoples and women) together with cultural and
customary rights; and (ii) a transparent and decentralized land administration to promote good
governance and management of natural resources and reduce inequity and corruption.
3. In recent years, carbon trading, demand of land for plantations for biofuels, and the growth of
large scale foreign direct investment (FDI) in agriculture have been shown to increase the scarcity
and economic value of land, as well as the competition for and access to land. These changes
imply new risks (losing customary land rights with no or unfair compensation for customary
users), but also new opportunities (wealth and resources for public investment), and new
responsibilities for the State. Land use planning is becoming a necessity to weigh up and identify
best bet options, at various scales and in the short- and long-term, taking into account the range of
stakeholders and social, economic and environmental trade-offs and externalities.
4. Land degradation and desertification exacerbate problems of land scarcity, water shortage,
climate change and human conflict, while they continue to threaten the livelihoods of millions
of people worldwide. Degradation processes are present in all countries, but affect in
particular the poor, reducing the land potential or even depriving communities of their
productive land and hence their livelihoods. Problems are particularly acute in the drylands
that cover some 40 percent of the Earth and are home to more than one billion people.
Degradation of resources and loss of ecosystem services engender enormous social and
economic costs and pose a real threat to progress in sustainable development, and to the
eradication of poverty and hunger. The alternative is to develop adapted policies that address
the indirect drivers of degradation and build capacities at all levels for wise land use and wide
adoption of sustainable land management practices.
5. Production systems need to be designed so that they restore the nutrients that are lost
through the harvesting of agricultural and forestry products, erosion, leaching and
mineralization. Nutrient restoration can be through fallows and rotations that provide
residues, root biomass and nitrogen fixation and additions of mineral and organic fertilizers.
In many countries, fertilizer use by smallholder farmers is minimal, inhibiting sustainable
intensification ?a situation requiring concerted government policy development and action.
6. Conservation Agriculture (CA) based on the principals of minimal soil disturbance, organic
residue retention, and crop rotations and combinations is shown to be a successful alternative
to the resource intensive conventional tillage-based production systems and deserves attention
by policy-makers to provide an enabling environment for their wider adoption. There is
growing evidence that CA is working with good results under diverse agro-ecological
conditions to justify a major investment of human and financial resources. This will lead to
large savings in machinery and energy use and in carbon emissions, restoration of soil organic
matter and biotic activity, reduced carbon emissions and erosion, increased crop water
availability and thus resilience to drought, improved recharge of aquifers and reduced impact
of unreliable weather patterns associated with climate change.
7. The Clean Development Mechanism, established under the UNFCC Kyoto protocol,
considers only afforestation and reforestation as acceptable sequestration activities. A post-
Kyoto 2012 regime that recognizes the eligibility of soil carbon sequestration in agricultural
lands (rangeland, cropland and agroforestry) holds great potential in increasing carbon content
in the soil and bring multiple benefits in terms of soil biodiversity, soil fertility and soil water
storage capacity and hence agricultural productivity. Soil carbon sequestration through the
restoration of soil organic matter can further reverse land degradation. Good land use and
management practices (such as conservation agriculture) that sequester carbon will also
contribute to stabilizing or enhancing food production and optimizing the use of synthetic
fertilizer inputs. Post-Kyoto mechanisms should seriously consider policies and incentives for
sequestering carbon in soils and encourage smallholders, herders and commercial farmers to
adopt improved management practices that enhance productivity, reducing green house gas
(GHG) from all types of land and mitigating and adapting to climate change.