At the FAO Workshop on the Implementation of Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT), Kaya Thomas from the AbL /ECVC spoke at length about land fragmentation, collapsing rural infrastructure and contradictory land laws. Here is the full text of her speech that she delivered on behalf of CSOs and social movements.
At the FAO Workshop on the Implementation of Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT), held on 12-13 December 2016 in Budapest, Hungary, Kaya Thomas from the AbL /ECVC spoke at length about land fragmentation, collapsing rural infrastructure and contradictory land laws. Here is the full text of her speech that she delivered on behalf of CSOs and social movements.Dear colleagues and friends, My name is Kaya Thomas. I finished my agricultural apprenticeship in the north of Germany and am currently studying law. I am a member of the AbL, which stands for “Working Group on Peasant Agriculture”, the German member of the European Coordination Via Campesina. I work on issues related to land distribution, access to seeds, and support for young farmers. It is a great honour for me to speak here today on behalf of civil society and grassroots movements (CSOs), as I will bring to you the concerns, struggles and the voice of the millions of small-scale food producers and family farmers, small scale fisher folk, pastoralists, and indigenous peoples throughout Europe and Central Asia, and the challenges they face in relation to land, forests, fisheries. All over the world, people’s access to the natural resources on which they depend for their livelihoods and ways of life is being enclosed by national, (trans)national capital and state predation. This is equally true for the Europe and Central Asia region, where land and water grabbing, regressive laws on seeds and genetic resources, deforestation and the erosion of biodiversity and failure to manage fish stocks, create an adverse environment for the region’s small-scale food producers, fishers and rural peoples. These developments run counter to the vision put forward by the CSOs of the region for whom natural resources are part of the Commons that are an indivisible and indispensable part of their local food systems, living spaces, and territories rather than pure commodities. Securing access and use and effective control over land, water, fish stocks and fish, seeds and forests, is therefore identified as a key priority area for CSOs in the Europe and Central Asia region. In this regard, the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (VGGT) as well as the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries (VGSSF) are critical tools to secure the tenure rights of the region’s small-scale food producers and family farmers and secure access to fish stocks and fish, given that they are anchored in a human-rights based approach, respect nature and explicitly prioritise vulnerable and marginalised groups. In 2015, with support from FAO, the European Coordination Via Campesina, FIAN, TNI and Crocevia organised two training workshops for CSOs, in Rome and in Brussels, on the application of the VGGT in Europe and Central Asia. Despite the many geographical, cultural and political differences of the countries presents, we discovered many common challenges arising in the different countries, such as the very high levels of land concentration and the pressure and competition on natural resources by urbanization, energy projects, real estate, infrastructure and other commercial and industrial developments. In some of the so called Post-Soviet countries, the historical collapse of the USSR led to the destruction of the agricultural sector. In the Rome and Brussels's workshops, we learned how in these Post-Soviet countries, land tenure entitlements have been fragmented through ineffective redistribution; and at the same time, rural infrastructures have been neglected. When the legal frameworks consider the land issue, it is often addressed by laws that are not enforced or are ineffective on the ground. Moreover, laws are overlapping and sometimes contradictory. From an economic point of view, in the 1990s agriculture was no longer interesting to investors; thus land price went down, and governments sought foreign investments and support from international bodies, such as the FAO, the EU or the World Bank. Yet, if you think that in the European Union the story is different, the answer is a clear No! Contrary to popular belief, the EU isn’t a problem-free zone in regards to the tenure of land, fisheries and forest. Two main processes are occurring: land concentration in the western and northern part of the EU, and land grabbing in the peripheries of the EU. For example, ın 2010, 3% of the farms controlled 50% of the arable lands in the EU. Despite having identified these burning issues in the Region, CSO’s still perceive a bias in which European and Central Asian governments interpret these Guidelines, primarily as an instrument for their "development cooperation" agenda in the global South, rather than something to be applied and translated into public policy “at home”. The VGGT also address the rights of indigenous peoples and small scale fisherfolk. Now I would like to paraphrase a Siberian fisherfolk participating in our 2015 VGGT training: They are not free to use the land they live upon. The use is legally restricted to hunting, fishing and harvesting. They have no right to generate income and proper economic activity with their natural resources. Furthermore, there are legal restrictions even on the consumption of the fish – to 175 grams a day! At stake is their cultural identity, and key issues of participation and consultation that are affirmed by the VGGT. Like farmers, fisher-folks have a traditional way of living but they are culturally discriminated and marginalized while public policies are often applying the same norms and rules as for the fish industry. There is a clear interest and opportunity to connect both farmers and fishers struggles in order to implement the VGGT in Europe and Central Asia. We see a similar pattern in the Saami community in Norway and Finland: Indigenous Saami fishers in rivers in Finland and Norway, as well as in the coastal area of Norway, face great challenges with the access to fisheries. In the biggest Atlantic salmon river in Europe, Deatnu, Saami are being forced to stop some of their traditional salmon-fishing methods, which is threatening their food security, culture and economy. In the coast of Norway, big boats are favoured over smaller ones, which in many cases leave Saami without fishing rights. We should remember and be aware that the VGGT guidelines are relevant and should be applied to small-scale fisheries (SSF) in Europe and Central Asia for the following reasons:
- The strategic social and economic importance of small scale fisheries, both marine and inland, should be recognized especially in remote areas,
- The low environmental impact and low carbon footprint characteristics of some fisheries are important to acknowledge and support to develop as strategic to sustainable natural resource management. The good practices and systems for self governance/ co-management developed by many small-scale fisheries make an important contribution to the sustainability of the fisheries sector;
- Small-scale fishing communities are more vulnerable to climate change, construction of dams in rivers and deterioration of the marine and fresh water ecosystem. This should be recognised.
- Recognise, take stock of, and monitor pressing issues linked to land, water, seeds, fish stocks and forests, paying special attention to the tenure rights of vulnerable and marginalised groups, especially the region’s small-scale food producers of the various constituencies.
- Develop, with full and effective civil society participation, especially small-scale food producers organisations, a robust monitoring mechanism on the implementation of the VGGT in the ECA region.
- Commit to the full implementation of the VGGTs in the region, with the understanding that the VGGTs are much more than a tool for establishing a land registry- something that can actually promote land concentration- and that they should address all fundamental inequalities in the access to and control of natural entities.
- Ensure that CSOs in the region (and not simply big donors) are active participants and true partners in the dialogue to identify the pressing issues linked to natural resources and in the implementation of the VGGTs in the region.
- Communities need access to knowledge and education as a common good. It is important to recognize the value of traditional knowledge, which has been central to food sovereignty for centuries. Traditional knowledge must be valued and recognized at the same level as expert knowledge by governments and the FAO. We need to reinforce a deeper dialogue between these two types of knowledge.
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