Land is where it all begins

Barbara Codispoti Climate Change, Food & livelihoods, Gender, Land rights

When land rights are jeopardised, so are the livelihoods of the people who depend on it. As Oxfam launches a new land rights website, Barbara Codispoti highlights some of the key things we have learned.

Land is so much more than just a means for production. Securing rights to land allows people greater political power, community representation, and economic security. Land rights reflect the relationship between people and the land, and with each other. Too often, these relationships are based on inequality, violence, neglect, and injustice.

Transforming land rights strengthens and rebalances the position of women, men, and vulnerable groups within their families, communities and societies. Supporting women to gain equal land rights is at the heart of achieving this agenda. Failure to recognize and protect land rights not only undermines people’s human rights. It also threatens humanity’s ability to achieve food security, realize sustaining peace and fight climate change.

Oxfam’s land rights work

Oxfam has worked on land rights for the past two decades, supporting around one hundred Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), in more than 40 countries. In many cases, Oxfam created the conditions for national CSOs and CSO alliances to start advocating on land rights. In the last decade, Oxfam has also collaborated with international allies to advance land rights in the global development agenda.

We believe that rural women, men and communities need voices and choices regarding their rights to land.

We work through country programming, international advocacy, campaigning and peer learning. We work in strong cooperation with southern and local CSOs, who have depth, wealth and diversity of experience at country level. We believe that rural women, men and communities need voices and choices regarding their rights to land. And we have experience in integrating land rights with broader movements surrounding gender, climate change, and pro-poor inclusive value chains.

Why a land rights website?

This website is the result of a joint effort of Oxfam’s community of practice on land, which includes almost one hundred people worldwide. By having all of Oxfam’s land rights work in one place, we aim to provide transparency, insight and our learning from working closely with partners and communities.  We hope that making this accessible will facilitate collaboration and co-creation. We recognise that working on land means working on big changes in a broader governance system with multiple socio-political, economic and environmental interests.

The transformative power of land rights for women

Women in rural areas are denied access to, and control over land. This contributes to keeping them marginalised and in poverty. Understanding, claiming, and exercising land rights is often a risky option. Oxfam stands with these women. We publicly campaign to influence policies and global debates, support movements to strengthen women’s voices and change attitudes, and directly support women in securing their rights.  Women’s land rights is our top priority.

Indigenous peoples and community land rights

2.5 billion people worldwide depend on land and resources held by communities. Protecting their land rights is vital to them, and it matters to all of us. The destiny of humanity, and the planet we live on, depends on how we protect collectively-held land and resources.

Oxfam is actively involved in the global campaign, Land Rights Now. This a powerful movement of hundreds of communities, organisations and activists promotes and secures the land rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. Recently, Liberia approved a people-centred Land Rights Act, in response to a Land Rights Now petition.

Land and inequality

Oxfam produces a series of reports which reveals blatant examples of the correlation between land concentration and extreme poverty. These reports are a reference for those interested in land rights from a macroeconomic perspective. They shed a light on the destabilizing consequences of land inequalities.

Business that works with communities

Over the past decade, Oxfam has opposed land grabs through public campaigning, such as Behind the Brands, and in supporting affected communities. Last July,  because of continued struggle, 134 evicted families in Polochic Valley, Guatemala finally received their own land back, seven years after they were violently evicted to make way for a sugar mill.

While Oxfam continues to fight with communities and supporting partners , we recognise that just opposing land grabs is not enough. The world needs constructive, community-based alternatives, and innovative agribusiness strategies. Oxfam works with the private sector to develop suitable tools, and provide guidance for responsible actions. In Uganda and Zambia, Oxfam tested step-by-step guidance tool for women and communities to engage with large scale land investments.

The right to speak out on land

A shrinking and shifting civic space leaves land rights defenders particularly vulnerable. In 2017, 207 activists were killed – the highest number on record. If left unchecked, this also paves the way for threats and repression to extend across civil society.

In 2017, 207 activists were killed – the highest number on record

We take specific actions to bring justice where unfair criminalization is made, and to combat impunity of those who intimidate, or violently attack people defending their land rights.

Last July, Oxfam and allies in Paraguay celebrated the supreme court decision to annul the conviction of 11 campesinos unjustly sentenced for the death of six police in the 2012 Curuguaty massacre. This was in response to their peaceful occupation of, and legitimate claims to, the Marina Kue property under the agrarian reform law.

More than land rights

Oxfam integrates land rights with other areas of our work, such as humanitarian response, climate change adaptation strategies, and sustaining peace. Adequately integrating protection of land rights in the aftermath of natural disasters. Adopting integrated landscape management to balance competing demands on land. Developing a programmatic framework which combines land and sustaining peace. These are all examples of integrated areas of work that open new paths of reflection and models of actions.

Visit the website for more learning, tools and approaches for protecting and securing land rights

Kerry Akers