The VGGT as a Tool for Improving Access to Land and Responsible Management of Natural Resources

…John Adune examines the salient issues
We must agree as a nation, that several mistakes have been made in our land deals in recent years. We were stampeding in the wrong direction without adequately consulting beneficiaries i.e. those who are directly affected, those individuals and groups who suffer if anything goes wrong. They are also seen but not heard i.e. the voiceless and marginalized living in the rural areas. Soliciting the views and full participation of the rural farmers in programs that affect them is a sine qua non in a democracy that ultimately contributes to peace and national stability. In a democracy, Governments should not be impervious to demand for change that results in overhauling a system that has not benefited the intended targets. To resolve some of these teething issues, the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) endorsed the VGGT (Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure) that underscored its objectives.
The purpose of the VGGT is to serve as reference and provide guidance to improve the governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forest with the overarching goal of achieving food security for all and to support the program realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security.
These guidelines, simplified by Green Scenery, is now available to grassroots NGOs, Paramount Chief and other local authorities to accelerate access to land that guarantees adequate food production. Simply put, these guidelines are intended to contribute to the global and national efforts towards the eradication of hunger and poverty (…) the centrality of land to development by promoting secure tenure rights and equitable access to land, fisheries and forests. [Extract from the preface of the VGGT].
The issue should be raised; in what ways the VGGT can be used for improving access to land and responsible management of natural resources. The 2030 Agenda places land rights at the core of global
development priorities, recognizing its foundational link to eradicating poverty (Goal 1), ensuring food and nutrition security (Goal 2), promoting gender equality and empowerment of women and girls (Goal 5), sustainable cities (Goal 11) and life on land (Goal 15). Secure land rights also contribute to achieving other SDG goals, including peace and security. We recognize the provision of land related SDG targets and explicit land indicators in the SDGs for measuring progress on women’s land rights.
To make rapid progress positive steps in terms of laws and policy that have been developed by the government of Sierra Leone seems to address access to land. Beyond that progressive step, however, is
the urgent need for community involvement in land management, fisheries and forest resources including participatory village level dialogues that involves citizens of those communities (the seeming
to know all who influence rural farmers in decision making). It is heart rendering to see how our forests are deteriorating at a very rapid rate. Large areas of the country especially in the South, East and North of the country are gone due to uncontrolled logging and increasing demand for timber for commercial purposes, export included. The need for sharing direct field experiences using capacity materials based on field experience with farmers that CSOs and other implementing agencies have been developed to empower grassroots farmers emphasizing women cannot be overemphasized in the implementation of the VGGT.
Perhaps this is where Green Scenery that has been engaged in national consultations on the VGGT process with Paramount Chiefs and other stakeholders can bear greater relevance in consultation with
stakeholders to develop strategic access and management tools on natural resources in relation to the fast deteriorating forests, fisheries and water resources. To allow citizens to have a say on their destiny becomes an imperative. What are traditional leaders doing in terms of massive logging leading to huge loss of rare species of trees even in forest reserves? Consideration has not been given to massive logging, destruction of flora and fauna and clearing of bush along river banks culminating in subsequent catastrophic dynamics of soil creep, landslide/mudslide and possible climate change? Active community involvement and abiding by the VGGT prescription will definitely promote the process and accelerate adequate food production in 10-15 years by my estimation to feed the nation.
In light of the myriad of problems connected with access to land and tenure management, there is urgent need today to reform the current system in practical terms due to land ownership concentration that emerged as a result of direct foreign investment in land reinforced by market dynamics and institutional roles. What can be the role of Green Scenery, ALLAT and its many partners in ensuring acceleration of the VGGT objectives and purpose? This time let Sierra Leoneans be actively involved in the entire process of implementation of VGGT reflected in diverse participatory ways of active rural communities.
This piece enlightens policy makers and CSOs not only on the way forward but ways of contributing to the identification and methodologies for improving access and rights to sustainable land tenure and management in Sierra Leone taking into consideration the objectives and principles stated on the VGGT as a possible framework. The following can be possible objectives in our current drive to implement the VGGT: -To provide useful feedback to local authorities on how to fulfill the VGGT goals through innovative governance practices on land use; -to provide a general framework for assessing the fulfillment of criteria defined by the VGGT in local initiatives.
In terms of fair distribution of benefits, the VGGT, notes among other things that: States should develop and publicize policies covering the use and control of land, fisheries and forests that are retained by the public sector and should strive to develop policies that promote equitable distribution of benefits from State owned land, fisheries and forests. Policies should take into account tenure rights of others and anyone who could be affected should be included in the consultation process consistent with the principles of consultation and participation of these guidelines. The administration of, and transactions concerning these resources should be undertaken in an effective, transparent and accountable manner in fulfillment of public policies.
On the whole the fair distribution of benefits aims at fostering new employment and economic opportunities for rural farmers. Who benefits typology tells you that the farmers, families, communities and nation benefit enormously. This happens if the farmers own control and ownership of the processes involved lessening bureaucratic syndromes to create a more conducive climate for the operation of those working on the land. In summary, the VGGT must be viewed as a new international instrument that social movements or community based organizations can use to assert their tenure rights. The VGGT can therefore contribute to the efforts of communities, national institutions, local governments and civil society in improving governance of tenure of natural resources. In a determined way, Sierra Leone can achieve food self sufficiency provided there is effective monitoring and management of natural resources, not only by implementing partners and other interest groups but by our many local entities that play a predominant role in rural agriculture. All active and interested parties in land development in Sierra Leone must use the VGGT prescription as a road map for increased and sustainable food production that will entirely eliminate or drastically reduce imported food especially the “tasteless” white rice.

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