Thirty Eighth Special Session Of The Committee On World Food Security At Rome Greater Sustainability Of Food Production
This writer attended the Thirty Eighth Special Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) at the FAO headquarters at Rome on May 11, as the head of the Indian delegation. The final position paper adopted by the conference reflects India’s leadership in the agriculture sector, especially in production systems dominated by marginal and small landholder farmers. The consensus statement adopted by the CFS shows how advanced the Indian political system has been on conferring tenure rights to the tiller for these are concerns which are being raised today by many countries, and India resolved these issues immediately after Independence.
The key theme of the conference was the adoption of Voluntary Guidelines by (FAO) member countries to serve as the reference point and to provide guidance to improve the governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests to those whose livelihoods are critically dependent on these sectors. These Voluntary Guidelines (VGs) are intended to contribute to the global and national efforts towards the eradication of hunger and poverty, and are based on the premise that secure tenure rights of those who are actually engaged in the process of food production would lead to greater sustainability of food production. India’s example of securing land rights to tenant farmers, and access to credit even for oral lessees was held out as an exemplar of how countries, legislatures and central banking institutions can improve the productive capacities of those engaged in food production. India’s grant of land rights to forest-dwellers also came in for acknowledgment and appreciation. However, one must confess that while we have conferred legal rights, and also created enabling legislation for consolidation of land holdings, there is much scope to improve the functioning on the ground. While it is true that several districts have shown good work on computerising land records, transactions on land especially ‘land leases’ and mutations can be simplified, and linked to credit and technical support services.
Like all UN documents, there is much that is sheer verbose, yet has to be included. Thus after the brief Preamble (part I) in which the objectives, and the nature and scope of the guidelines are covered, Part II and III of the report speak of General Matters and Guiding Principles: human dignity, non-discrimination, equity and justice, gender equality, realistic and sustainable approach, consultation and participation, rule of law, transparency, accountability and continuous improvement. Sometimes, one fails to understand why all these ten points could not be covered under the broad head of human dignity, and perhaps continuous improvement, for everything else can be covered in these two broad categories. One was told that several points have to be included for the UN system is now trying to reach out to the civil society, NGO sector, business community and is engaged in broad consultation with all stakeholders, who wish to include all the pious intentions into every document that is published by any of the UN agencies.
Part IV of the document is on Rights and Responsibilities relating to tenure. This part has also drawn from the policy debates in India with regard to inclusion of women’s name in the record of rights, both as owner-cultivator and as a tenant so that arbitrary evictions do not take place on the demise of/divorce from husband. In fact the Voluntary Guidelines read so much like a joint working paper of the Krishi Bhawan and Planning Commission with inputs from the Ministry of Environment and Forests. There was a discussion on how land acquisition policies should recognise the rights of all those who dwell and draw sustenance from the land. The Joint Forest Management and Van Panchayats, which have a legal status in our country, are sought to be universalised: “states should welcome and facilitate the participation of users of land, fisheries and forests in order to be fully involved in a participatory process of tenure governance, inter alia, formulation and implantation of policy and law and decisions on territorial development, as appropriate to the roles of the state and non-state actors, and in line with national law and legislation”.
Part V of the document is on Policy, legal and organisational frameworks related to tenure. The key statement here is that land tenure rights are part of the overall policy framework and constitution. Thus 5.9 reads: “States should recognise that policies and laws on tenure rights operate in the broader political, legal, social, cultural, religious, economic and environmental contexts. Where broader contexts change, and where reforms to tenure are therefore required, states should seek to develop (national) consensus on the proposed reforms.” The next section (part VI) is on Delivery of services—because unless states have a clearly-defined implementation procedure and schedule, all the statements referred above have no meaning. Here the Right to Service Act, which has been introduced in several states of India, with Bihar, Punjab and Karnataka taking the lead can be a good global exemplar.
Last but not least was the reference to the rights of indigenous people on lands which traditionally belonged to them. Here Canada, the US and Australia made their statements of pious intentions, but the main thrust was that all the recommendations were not legally binding because this issue has very serious implications for them because not only have indigenous people’s land been alienated, their way of agriculture has been completely lost so much so that even if they wanted to, it would not be possible for them to undertake the venture again.
So, it was clear that India’s position on land tenure rights, rural development programmes, capitalisation of agriculture and the thrust on co-operatives and farmer producer companies to achieve economies of scale and scope are well respected globally, and that it was time for India to share its knowledge and expertise with the world.
By Sanjeev Chopra
(An IAS Officer, the author is Joint Secretary & Mission Director, National Horticulture Mission, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.)