By Heath Cosgrove, Director of USAID’s Land Tenure and Resource Management Office.

Today marks the three-year anniversary of the endorsement of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT). The endorsement of the VGGT in 2012 represented an unprecedented step in recognizing the importance of improving land and other resource governance systems as a strategy for enhancing food security, promoting sustainable development, limiting conflict, and reducing extreme poverty. The U.S. Government chaired the Open-Ended Working Group that developed the Guidelines through a two-year multi-stakeholder negotiation process that included representatives from donor countries, host governments, multi-lateral development agencies, civil society, and the private sector. These negotiations led to the unanimous adoption of the VGGT by the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

The VGGT provide a framework that governments, civil society, and the private sector can use in developing policies, legislation, and programs that promote improved land and resource governance. While much has been accomplished over the past three years, more can be done. The ultimate value of the VGGT will be determined by the extent of their implementation and measured in improved development outcomes for women, men, and children around the globe.

Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting an online panel discussion to highlight implementation efforts by a variety of key stakeholders. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) was represented on the panel by Dr. Paul Munro-Faure, the International Land Coalition (ILC) was represented by Ms. Annalisa Mauro, and Dr. Joan Kagwanja represented the Land Policy Initiative (LPI) – a joint program of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the African Development Bank and the African Union.

During the hour-long conversation, panelists discussed both the successes and the challenges experienced over the past three years while implementing the VGGT. A key message from Dr. Munro-Faure was that the VGGT has fundamentally changed the global discourse in the land tenure sector and has fostered partnerships between donors, governments, and civil society, which traditionally has been one of the most intractable obstacles to addressing land challenges. Dr. Kagwanja observed that the VGGT are a tool to help provide a framework for implementing the African agenda on land in alignment with Framework and Guidelines on Land policy in Africa. Finally, Ms. Mauro noted that the VGGT have subsequently been used by ILC to build consensus at the regional level with various stakeholders.

This week is ILC’s Global Land Forum in Dakar, Senegal, the theme of which is “Land Governance for Inclusive Development, Justice and Sustainability: Time For Action.” The Forum will bring together over 500 grassroots organizations, activists, local and international NGOS, researchers, multilateral organizations, and government agencies from around the world. At this year’s conference, ILC members will be adopting a new Strategy (2016-21), which will place implementation of the VGGT as the primary goal of ILC.

USAID has been a strong supporter of the development and implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines. USAID currently is investing $300 million in land tenure programs in 24 countries that are helping to implement many of the principles and practices outlined in the VGGT. As demonstrated through our panel discussion, USAID is not alone. FAO, ILC, LPI and many other donors and organizations continue to work with governments and at country-level to ensure that the VGGT are realized.

Additionally, the Global Donor Working Group on Land, established to coordinate activities among donors and development agencies, strives to improve access to secure land tenure and property rights for people all over the world, with an emphasis on vulnerable groups, including women and indigenous people. Three years after the adoption of the Voluntary Guidelines, I look forward to many more years of productive partnerships around improving land and resource governance and strengthening property rights.


Chris Weaver

In celebration of this year's Earth Day, we sat down with World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) Chris Weaver over Skype to discuss the links between secure land and resource rights and WWF's conservation work in Namibia. Mr. Weaver has been the director of WWF’s Namibia program since 1993, providing guidance and assistance to Namibian partner organizations in the development of one of the world’s most highly regarded community conservation programs. During the discussion, Mr. Weaver shared four key ingredients to achieve positive conservation outcomes:

  1. Devolution of rights to and responsibilities for natural resources to local communities
  2. Recognition of the need for diverse expertise and partnering with civil society to expand capacity
  3. Creating awareness within the community of the value of the natural resources and sustainable management
  4. Creating the systems and tools to support conservation that go beyond project-by-project activities

Watch the video below to learn more about why land matters for Earth Day.

Disclaimer: The speaker's views expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Agency for International Development or the United States Government.


Dr. Lauren Persha

Each quarter we will interview an expert whose work touches on aspects of land tenure and resource management. These will include evaluation specialists, country experts or USAID staff.

Our first interview is with Dr. Lauren Persha, Assistant Professor in Department of Geography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Persha is a member of the core research team of the Impact Evaluation of USAID’s Tenure and Global Climate Change (TGCC) project in Zambia. The Impact Evaluation team’s work was presented at this year’s World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty.

We asked Dr. Persha, an interdisciplinary social-ecological systems researcher, five questions to get a deeper understanding of natural resource governance and trends in the forest sector, based on her experience and research.

1) Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I started out working in East Africa with an Integrated Conservation and Development Project that was piloting forest sector decentralization in villages and forest reserves across three countries. Through that work I became really interested in the complex social and institutional aspects of getting natural resource, land, and governance interventions to work, incentivizing behavior change, and ways to effectively communicate information and support development in rural villages. After that project I returned to the U.S. to get more training via an interdisciplinary PhD program and post-doctoral fellowship. For the past twelve years, I’ve been involved in research to understand linked livelihoods, land use and conservation outcomes in different land and natural resource governance systems. Together, these experiences moved me towards an interest in using stronger tools and research approaches to better understand how these systems work and identify mechanisms for positive change.

2) You have done work on the commons* with some of the leading scholars in this field. Why is it important to a) study and b) protect the commons?

It’s important to study the commons and common-pool resource management because they are so ubiquitous, and highly depended on by many people across the world. This is especially so where traditional systems to manage common pool resources or commons lands are still practiced or being revitalized through newer land tenure or decentralized initiatives. Also, many natural resources or land use systems function as common-pool resources even if they are not explicitly governed as such.

But despite their ubiquity, commons and common-pool resources can be difficult to sustain because of their inherent basic characteristics: they are subtractable resources, but their physical or landscape characteristics often make it difficult to effectively exclude people from accessing them. So, commons are challenging places to manage, regulate and govern. But, there are many groups around the world—many of them in traditional resource or knowledge systems—that have developed effective systems for the collective use and management of commons. Studying the commons (successful ones and those performing less well) helps to increase knowledge on how to strengthen sustainable use and governance of commons systems—for example what kinds of rules and institutional arrangements within communities help facilitate effective management, or maintain equitable benefits across different groups.

It’s important to protect the commons because so many people around the world, particularly in many of the poorest countries, depend on commons resources for their daily lives. And they do so in ways that often are unlikely to be amenable to some of the alternatives to customary commons systems that governments have imposed, such as land privatization or management via centralized state regulation.

3) As you know, some people worry that if management and control over natural resources are devolved to local groups the resources will not be well managed. What have you found in your research?

This is a commonly raised concern, but research across the extensive body of work around natural resource devolution, including my own, has shown that “devolution = resource decline” is not a foregone conclusion. Instead, much work shows that there are many cases where devolution works very well, as well as cases where it fails. Similarly, there are successes and failures across all of the management alternatives to devolution, such as privatization, centralized management or increasingly strict resource protection and community exclusion. So, the challenge is to understand the factors that facilitate devolution to work—together with the policy design and implementation processes that are effective under different conditions—and then to target devolution appropriately to contexts where there is a likelihood of a good fit.

Research suggests there is no single factor on which “success” rests. However, much work points to several key factors. For example, research increasingly shows that when local people who depend strongly on a resource for their livelihoods are allowed to substantively participate in managing and making decisions about the resource (often envisioned through devolution but not always implemented in practice), the likelihood of more sustainable use is often significantly higher. So, learning how to better engender truly substantive participation across groups who heavily depend on natural resources is important.

Ultimately, understanding how the particular constellation of institutional arrangements for management is structured and operates in practice, and how this shapes the incentives for people to make sustainable and equitable decisions around resource use, is key.

4) Can you talk a bit about what contributes to, or makes for, good governance in the forest sector?

Governance issues lie at the core of forest sector research and policy action, particularly in the context of now widely implemented decentralized strategies, which essentially aim to use governance changes to improve forest conservation and livelihoods. Good governance is crucial for sustainable resource use, forest-based livelihoods and economic growth. This is a multi-faceted concept that includes transparent use of public resources, effective service delivery to constituents, a decision-making process that is viewed as legitimate and inclusive (especially of traditionally disempowered or marginalized groups), and creating opportunities for substantive participation of diverse stakeholders. Some of the more widely emphasized elements that are thought to contribute to achieving good governance include: strengthening substantive participation in forest decision-making by those who directly depend on forests; building upward and downward accountability into decision-making; and finding ways to generate functional and equitable sharing of revenues or other tangible benefits from forests.

5) Finally, are you encouraged or discouraged by trends relating to forest and resource governance and why?

I am really encouraged by the current visibility and action around forest and resource governance issues today, which is important in its own right, but also hugely relevant for land issues in general, livelihoods and equity interests, and support for long-existing customary land use and management systems. The last few decades have seen an overwhelming number of governments around the world passing policies and laws in support of more devolved or inclusive forest and resource governance; and together with that, substantial changes in land laws—for example, formally recognizing and embedding customary rights to forest lands and resources or communal land titling within the legal system. So there is an important nexus taking place right now across land issues generally, and forest and natural resource governance specifically. We also see global support for improving forest and resource governance across a wide range of sectors, public and private organizations and NGOs, and more integrative dialogue across these different interests. We have a new generation of forest and resource management programs and stronger technologies and tools to gather and share information. All of this has, I think, opened up some very good opportunities for improvements at scale—if effective learning can take place—and is reason to be optimistic.


*Commons: natural and cultural resources or assets that all members of a group or community are able to access and have rights over. Such resources are typically owned jointly, not as individual property.


USAID Booth at the 2015 World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty.

USAID works to improve land and resource governance and strengthen property rights for all members of society, especially women. Currently, USAID is working in 24 countries on land tenure issues and has committed US $300 million to these programs.

At this year’s World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, where USAID served as a sponsor and partner, the Agency had the opportunity to highlight exactly why land rights matter and what USAID is doing to address land tenure and property rights issues around the world. Eleven presentations, two Master Classes, and a booth at the Innovation Fair featured USAID's work designing, testing and evaluating innovative and cost-effective land tenure and property rights approaches.

During the conference we released the infographic “Why Land Rights Matter,” to draw attention to the importance of land and the effect that it has on lives around the world. We also released the video, “Mobile Solutions Matter for Land,” which emphasizes how USAID using technology to help secure land rights and improve land use. In the two weeks since these products were launched, they have already gained significant attention. The infographic has been tweeted more than 200 times and the video has been viewed more than 250 times.

As part of our weekly Land Tenure and Resource Management Media Scan, which is a regular compilation of land tenure and resource management news from around the world, we have made a special edition for news stories related to the Conference on Land and Poverty.

Please see the Storify below for a full recap of USAID’s contributions to the Conference.


The 2015 World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty will take place at the World Bank Headquarters in Washington, D.C. on March 23 - 27, 2015. The theme of the 16th annual conference is "Linking Land Tenure and Use for Shared Prosperity.”

The conference will feature USAID’s work designing, testing and evaluating innovative and cost-effective land tenure and property rights approaches around the globe that can be adapted, scaled, or used to inform new research, program design, or national policies. New research from USAID land and resource governance impact evaluations is building an evidence base to demonstrate how secure land tenure may improve economic growth, food security, climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, and gender equality. This work will be highlighted in the following presentations:

As in past years, USAID will serve as a conference partner and sponsor. According to Tim Fella, USAID Senior Land and Resource Governance Specialist, “USAID invests in and is committed to the success of this annual conference because it is the premier land event, and one of the best opportunities to influence ideas and practice in property rights.”

The Conference provides an important venue to discuss and receive feedback on USAID’s land tenure work. If you are planning to attend the 2015 World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, make sure to stop by USAID’s booth in the atrium for a hands-on demonstration of the technology being piloted by the Mobile Applications for Secure Tenure (MAST) project in Tanzania, a sneak preview of our soon-to-be launched e-newsletter, and your chance to win a printed version of the winning photo from the LTRM photo contest.

If you cannot attend, stay connected and up-to-date on USAID’s efforts to strengthen land tenure and property rights by following #LandRights on Twitter and by subscribing to USAID’s Land Tenure and Resource Management Media Scan.



The information provided on this Web site is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.