By Tim Fella, Land Tenure and Conflict Advisor, USAID.

On October 15, I had the honor of presenting an updated version of the Global Donor Working Group on Land’s program database and map at a side event at the 41st plenary of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS). The Global Donor Working Group on Land is a coalition of 23 donors and development agencies, including USAID, that are committed to improving information sharing, coordination, and collaboration in support of the Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT).

At the CFS side event, the Working Group had the opportunity to receive feedback from civil society and private sector representatives, on the program database and the group’s new 3-year road map. The representatives stressed the importance of connecting our efforts with theirs – sharing information and deepening linkages not just among donors, but among all stakeholders in the land sector: governments, civil society and the private sector.

Over the past year, we have made great strides in improving coordination among various stakeholders on this issue. As a result, we now have a comprehensive database of 554 land and resource governance programs funded by 16 donors and development agencies in 150 countries with a total value of approximately $4.6 billion. The interactive map of the information in the database, which clearly displays where different donors and development agencies are working and what they are working on, is a useful tool for stakeholders in the land sector to track activities, monitor progress, avoid duplication, and identify opportunities for greater synergy. Among other future enhancements, we will be exploring opportunities to link the information in this database with other data sets on land tenure and looking into common data standards and platforms for sharing all types of information on land and resource governance.

We recognize that while the creation of this Working Group and the program database are important achievements, they are only initial steps toward our ultimate goals: improving development partner coordination to deliver results on the ground in terms of more secure land tenure and property rights, enhanced food security, and better management of natural resources.

As incoming Vice Chair of the Working Group, USAID will continue to work with our partners to support greater coordination among stakeholders, refine and expand the program database, and develop new tools, programs and resources that move us all closer to realizing the promise of the VGGT.

Read more about the Global Donor Working Group on Land.


USAID invites you to comment on its draft guide, titled Responsible Land-Based Investment: A Practical Guide for the Private Sector. This guide was developed in response to requests from the private sector for guidance on making land-based investments that are more sustainable, responsible and inclusive, and less risky. USAID seeks input from a broad range of stakeholders in order to identify concerns and opportunities to improve the document. We encourage members of civil society, the private sector, governments, academia, and other development partners, to provide feedback and help ensure the guidance is as comprehensible as possible. The deadline for providing comment is Monday, December 1.

Purpose of the Guide

Recognizing and respecting the legitimate land and resource rights of people who may be affected by an investment is central to designing and operating responsible projects.

With the recent endorsement of the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems (RAI) by the UN Committee on World Food Security, attention is now focused on the how to practically address land tenure concerns in the context of agricultural investments in emerging economies. The guide was developed for this purpose, in line with relevant elements of both the RAI and the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Land Tenure, Fisheries and Forests (VGGT).


As global demand for food, biofuel, forest, and horticultural products rises, companies are investing – and will continue to invest – in countries where land appears abundant and inexpensive. With the promise of agricultural investment in developing countries come several risks for both local communities and investors; key among these risks is land tenure risk —the risk associated with acquiring rights to land. Many land-based investments take place in environments where land governance is weak and land rights are insecure or undocumented. Unclear, undocumented or contested land rights can lead to dispossession of local people and can create significant investment risks for the private sector. In addition, when a project fails to take adequate account of local land rights, it can face costly delays, work stoppages, protests, and, in some cases, violence. Investors can face legal actions and suffer financial, brand, or reputational harm. USAID’s practical guide does not endorse large-scale land acquisitions, but rather recognizes that large acquisitions do occur, and when they do, they can and should be conducted in a responsible and inclusive manner that does no harm to local communities. This document is intended to give specific, practical guidance to help companies address land tenure risks in their investments. It is hoped that the guide will also be of use to companies that source products from suppliers that may have land-based investments.


Tim Fella, Senior Land Tenure and Conflict Advisor for USAID’s Land Tenure and Resource Management Office wrote an article that was featured in Devex's Newswire newsletter last week. An excerpt appears below.

As the International Year of Family Farming winds down, a new set of United Nations principles recognizes that in order to promote global food security, we need to acknowledge and promote family farmers as key investors in agriculture and food systems.

The U.N. Committee on World Food Security is meeting in Rome this week to endorse the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems that pave the way for much-needed agricultural investments that will help feed the world’s expanding population, projected to be approximately 9 billion by 2050. The principles, together with the internationally recognized guidelines for land tenure, paint a picture of how we, as development practitioners, can encourage governments, civil society and the private sector — including family farmers — to collaborate to overcome persistent barriers to food security and poverty alleviation.

Family farmers are often underserved investors. Just like other commercial entities, they need the right policies, laws and processes in place to encourage and expand their investments in food production. Importantly, the new set of principles addresses this need by encouraging governments to create an enabling environment that fosters responsible investment and protects the legitimate land rights of one of the most vulnerable groups of family farmers: smallholder farmers.

Read the full article at


This past Wednesday, the United Nations Committee on World Food Security (CFS) endorsed the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems (commonly referred to as the RAI). The RAI provides much-needed principles to guide national regulations, global corporate social responsibility initiatives, and individual contracts around investment in agriculture.

The RAI was developed over two years through the CFS, an inclusive international and intergovernmental platform through which government, civil society and private sector stakeholders coordinate to improve food security and nutrition. The U.S. Government played a significant role in the RAI negotiations through a broad, inter-agency group involving USAID, the U.S. Department of State, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agriculture Service, and the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

Read more here.


On September 23, at the United Nations Climate Summit, leaders representing governments, the private sector, and civil society announced that they would join the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) – a voluntary, farmer-led, multi-stakeholder, action-oriented coalition committed to the incorporation of climate-smart approaches within food and agriculture systems. Signatories to the Climate Summit Action Statement on Agriculture pledge to increase agricultural productivity, enhance the resilience of 500 million people in agriculture by 2030, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While acting on that commitment, they should be mindful of the enabling environment that influences the decisions of smallholder farmers.

Research has repeatedly shown that smallholder farmers adopt more sustainable practices when they have secure access to land and resources, and the right to manage and benefit from them. Securing land tenure and resource rights can help strengthen weak enabling environments that, left unchecked, may hamper efforts to promote the adoption of CSA practices. It may also be necessary to support efforts or programming that amends the legal and regulatory environment, such as revising forest codes and rural codes for pastoralists; recognizing individual and customary land rights; revisiting lease laws for agricultural lands; and identifying ways to coordinate land use and land management plans across ministries.

Smallholder farmers are more likely to adopt CSA practices, make necessary investments, and sustainably manage their land resources over the long-term when they have incentives to do so. Strengthened rights and access to land and resources create forward-looking incentives because they provide a sense of permanence, stability, and predictability that allows farmers to make long-term planning and management decisions that are often required to reap the full stream of benefits associated with CSA.

While some CSA practices can be adopted quickly and easily, the following practices are more likely to be widely adopted where land tenure is secure and resource rights are well defined:

  • Agro-forestry: intercropping to improve soil structure, organic carbon content, infiltration, and fertility; establishing shelterbelts to reduce erosion
  • Improved agronomic practices: continuous cropping, use of cover crops, crop rotations
  • Tillage and residue management: soil conservation
  • Improved water management: terracing, water harvesting, bunds/ridges
  • Improved livestock management: managed access to grazing lands, pasture regeneration, managing water use, improving rangeland management

USAID is promoting the adoption of CSA practices to sustainably address broader food security and climate change goals. For further discussion of how secure land tenure and property rights provide the right incentives to adopt CSA practices, USAID’s Land Tenure and Property Rights Division will release an issue brief on the subject by the end of 2014. 

Until then, read USAID's Climate Change, Property Rights, and Resource Governance issue brief.



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