Following the 2007–2008 world food price crisis, the value of developing world agricultural land shot up, raising concerns about a ‘land grab’, In response, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) promulgated the Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Tenure of Land, Forests and Fisheries (VGGT) in an effort to strengthen the land rights of customary users. How do we explain the VGGT's emergence? The argument I make is that the VGGT was largely due to the efforts of a group of non-governmental organizations that effectively transformed debates over developing world agricultural land from an economic or consequentialist issue of increasing farm productivity and output into a moral or deontological one of protecting the human rights of those who worked the land through customary use. The article addresses the utility of the VGGT as an instrument for strengthening land rights along with its limits.
- For the research community - understand the conditions under which states and firms comply with international norms; and study mechanisms for the efficient transfer of appropriate agricultural technologies to small-hold farmers.
- For social advocates - ensure that customary users have the legal capacity to challenge those who would grab their land; and ‘name and shame’ countries and firms that fail to adopt and enforce VGGT principles.
- For donor nations - ensure that aid policies around agricultural development are ‘VGGT-relevant’ by supporting cadastral surveys, land tenure bureaus, and dispute resolution procedures.
- For firms - ensure that supply chains are VGGT compliant.
- For governments - protect those who defend land rights.
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