Land rights

A woman and a child walk across a field in Bangladesh with some goats in tow.
The SDC is working to ensure that the poorest population groups in rural areas have fair access to land and other natural resources. © IFAD/G.M.B.Akash

Just as in high-income countries, agricultural land in low- and middle-income countries is in increasingly short supply. Infrastructure, urban expansion and investments in large-scale farms are encroaching on land previously used by smallholders. Broad-based regulations are necessary to ensure fair access to land and other natural resources, especially for poorer population groups in rural areas. The SDC is committed to establishing such regulations at the national, regional and global levels.

The SDC's focus

The SDC works to ensure equitable access to land and other natural resources such as water, especially for poorer population groups in rural areas. As well as being vital to sustain life, they also act as important productive resources for smallholder farmers. Land law determines whether and how the right to use and control land, fisheries and forests can be exercised. Guaranteeing the right to use and own land is key to combating poverty and hunger.

With the aim of reducing poverty and hunger in poorer sections of the population, the SDC supports governments in the development, implementation and oversight of fair and transparent land use policies that recognise all existing rights of use, including individual, collective and customary rights.

At the same time, the SDC encourages the participation of all stakeholders in drawing up such principles and supports local communities and farmers' organisations so that they are able to exercise their land use rights. For the SDC, the inclusion of the private sector in such processes is of high priority.

At the global level, the SDC has participated actively in the creation and implementation of a set of targeted regulations that promote a just tenure and land management policy and establish criteria for responsible investment in agriculture.

Guidelines and principles on the responsible governance of tenure

As a member of the Bureau of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security (CFS), Switzerland was instrumental in developing the current UN Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security in 2012. Over the next two years, Switzerland led negotiations on a set of Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems, intended to complement the Guidelines. In 2014, it brought the process to a successful conclusion with the adoption of the Principles. Together with other states, private sector organisations, civil society and UN agencies, the SDC is actively involved in implementing these Guidelines and Principles. This lays the foundation for securing land use rights for all and enabling investments into better production methods.

The SDC also supports implementation of the African Union (AU) Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa, adopted in 2009, which pledges to ensure equitable access to and the efficient and sustainable use of land. To this end, the SDC works closely with the African Land Policy Centre, which is directly responsible for implementing the AU Framework and Guidelines. The SDC also broadens and strengthens the expertise of the relevant decision-makers and public officials in order to improve the assessment of land-related investment contracts.

Background

Approximately 70% of the more than 800 million chronically undernourished people in low- and middle income countries countries live in rural areas, the majority growing crops or rearing livestock. For them, security of access to land and other natural resources is especially important. Equally important is secure access to land for the rapidly increasing urban population, both for housing and for growing food in small gardens (urban agriculture).

Investments in land can have a major adverse impact on the food security of local communities. The legitimate call for increased investment in agriculture often focuses on the economic dimension, leaving aside social and environmental issues. As a result, such investments often restrict access to land and other natural resources such as water. Moreover, they contribute to reducing biodiversity in agriculture and threaten fragile ecosystems. In many cases, serious human rights violations occur.

Land-related investments are often concluded with no or minimal prior consultation of the affected rural populations. Most large-scale land transactions thus lack transparency and accountability at all levels. At country level, line ministries and parliaments are rarely invited to scrutinise investment projects involving large-scale land acquisitions and leases. When decision- and policymakers are involved, they often lack the capacity to thoroughly examine legal and transactional issues related to investment contracts at national level.

Land-law principles and guidelines such as those supported by the SDC are needed to make information on land deals available and to update it continuously. Dialogue with all stakeholders, including the private sector and government officials, helps create space for the needs and concerns of disadvantaged groups in policymaking processes. In this context, grievance mechanisms enable affected populations to hold governments and/or investors accountable and, where applicable, obtain appropriate compensation.

Switzerland is aware that existential issues such as those relating to land access, use and tenure have to be resolved in consultation with all stakeholders if conflicts are to be prevented.

Current projects

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Enabling development through landmine clearance in the Sengwe Wildlife Corridor

01.11.2021 - 31.10.2023

Switzerland will contribute to achieve Zimbabwe’s 2025 landmine-free deadline by supporting a demining operation in the Sengwe Wildlife Corridor. The project implemented by APOPO seeks to return 84% of the remaining suspected contaminated area to local communities which will be used for agricultural development, ecotourism, and conservation, as well as to provide mine risk education so that food security is enhanced, general wellbeing is improved, and accidents are avoided.


Strengthening livestock sector in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) Counties of Kenya

01.10.2021 - 30.04.2024

Around 60% of the population in the arid and semi-arid lands of Northern Eastern Kenya Counties live in abject poverty and are almost entirely dependent on livestock production for their livelihoods in an environment that is characterized by droughts and resource based conflicts. This programme will support these Counties to enhance livestock production by strengthening key factors such as fodder production, animal health, etc. and by strengthening the institutions to more effectively deliver relevant services and reduce conflicts. 


PREPAS - Programme de Renforcement de l’élevage pastoral au Tchad

01.10.2021 - 31.12.2026

Le Batha, le Wadi Fira et l’Ennedi sont des provinces sahéliennes soumises à l’avancée du désert et à l’irrégularité pluviométrique. L’élevage pastoral y est la principale activité économique. La Suisse appuie un programme de renforcement de l’élevage pastoral qui contribue à une gestion durable des ressources, à la prévention des conflits, et à l’amélioration de l’offre de services aux éleveurs. Ce programme impulse des opportunités économiques aux jeunes limitant la migration vers la Libye ou les zones aurifères marquées par l’insécurité et le banditisme.


PAAS - Project to Support Sustainable Agriculture in Cuba

15.07.2021 - 15.07.2023

The phase 3 of PAAS proposes the consolidation of a methodology for the application and scaling up of the value chain management model. It includes elements of circular economy, climate-smart agriculture and agro-ecological certification in 11 municipalities and 5 chains (cassava, broiler chicken meat, small livestock, fruit trees and vegetables). The project expects to have an impact on agricultural public policies by incorporating the model into the guidelines of the prioritized national agricultural programs.


Partnership for Forestry and Fisheries (PaFF): Support to Forestry and Fisheries Communities in Cambodia

01.07.2021 - 30.06.2023

The final phase of the Partnership for Forestry and Fisheries is implemented by four NonGovernmental Organisations led by the Center for Forests and People - RECOFTC. It will support rural communities in managing their natural resources in four provinces. With SDC`s contribution and inclusive development, the communities’ economic, social and cultural rights will be enhanced through funding opportunities that improve their livelihoods and increase resilience to natural shocks.  


Rural Resilience in Southern Africa / R4 Initiative

01.07.2021 - 30.06.2025

The R4 Rural Resilience Initiative for Southern Africa enables smallholder farmers’ adaptation to climate risk through improved resource management, insurance, livelihoods diversification, microcredit and savings. Through R4, Switzerland has become a credible and trusted partner in resilience building and its learnings have fed into policy dialogue. The emphasis of this final phase is on strengthening government and private sector, as well as the gender approach.  


International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) - core contribution

01.06.2021 - 31.12.2024

ICIPE is Africa’s leading insect research institute contributing to plant, animal, human and environmental health. SDC supports ICIPE as its work is highly relevant for the transformation to sustainable food systems, agroecology, healthy nutrition, and the promotion of the ‘One health’ approach. ICIPE’s development path is closely linked to Switzerland through longstanding partnerships with prominent Swiss experts and organisations. 


CORIGAP: Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia

01.04.2021 - 31.12.2022

SDC supports the International Rice Research Institute and national research and extension partners in six countries in Asia (China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam) to develop quantitative tools and methods to optimize the sustainability of irrigated systems in order to enhance regional food security while minimizing the environmental footprint of rice production. Through this contribution, Switzerland has initiated the development of sustainable rice production indicators which are now adopted by more than 100 private and public organisations.


ESLR - Enhancing Systematic Land Registration

15.03.2021 - 30.09.2026

The absence of land use regulations enforcement and poor-quality land administration services have limited land tenure security of the Lao population, and have contributed to social tensions and poverty. Switzerland, with its long standing engagement in the land governance sector, will support the Lao People’s Democratic Republic’s effort to accelerate systematic land registration, hence strengthening land tenure security of the Lao population, including the vulnerable groups, women and ethnic minorities.


Futuro Microbank

08.03.2021 - 30.06.2023

Limited access to financial services is a key constraint of rural micro and small women and men entrepreneurs (including farmers) to develop their business and to generate employment and income. The Swiss supported Banco Futuro is successfully providing affordable financial services to rural entrepreneurs (80% women), thus allowing them to enhance business and livelihood opportunities


Resilience for Pastoralist Communities in Northern Kenya

01.03.2021 - 31.07.2025

Pastoralism is a millennia old livelihood strategy adapted to the marginal and harsh environ-ments of Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL). In order to support pastoralists, this programme contributes to strengthening public and private institutions in the water and livestock sectors, putting policy frameworks in place to ensure efficient county-wide and cross-border water and rangeland management systems, and to increase access to water and pasture.


AgriPath: Empowering farmers’ transition to sustainable agriculture through effective and efficient digital pathways

01.03.2021 - 28.02.2026

500 million smallholder farmers need to increase their agriculture productivity, income and climate resilience. There is a lack of scientifically validated evidence on the effectiveness and cost efficiency of digital agriculture services. AgriPath aims to bring sustainable agriculture[1] to scale by identifying, evaluating, and promoting promising pathways for digitally supported agricultural advisory services. 

[1] The Consortium will embrace current concepts of climate resilient agriculture, climate smart agriculture, sustainable land management and agro-ecology. 

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