Photo: Fitria Rifkin

Photo: Fitria Rifkin


How Far Are We From People-Centred Land Governance?

ILC Secretariat Director and Regional Coordinators

The members of the International Land Coalition share one goal: bringing about people-centred land governance. This means putting those who live on and from the land at the centre of decision-making. Too often, they are excluded from decisions about their land by those in power. The political and economic systems that allow the powerful few to decide over the lives of many perpetuate injustice and inequality. Achieving our goal demands structural, systemic change.

We’ve made some progress. For example, in the willingness of governments to set global targets on land governance in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): these demonstrate how far the world has come in recognising that land rights are key to fighting hunger and poverty, and we are proud of having contributed to this awareness.  

Despite this progress, the reality in many countries remains sombre. The latest figures from Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) show that hunger is again increasing. CIVICUS reports that the space for civil society action is “closed, repressed or obstructed” in 109 countries. The last three years have been the deadliest on record for Land and Environmental Defenders, with 207 defenders killed in 2017 alone; 23 of them were ILC members. In Guatemala, six leaders from Comité de Desarrollo Campesino (CODECA) and three from Comité Campesino del Altiplano (CCDA) were murdered in 2018 alone.

The increasing violence and repression put our mandate to the test, but also show how important it is that – as a network – we stand by our members in their fight for land rights. This report highlights successes in creating opportunities for ILC members to connect, mobilise, and influence to create the conditions for long-term, sustainable change. It also raises five key challenges to such change, and how we intend to jointly overcome them.

Highlighting Success

Connect: ILC connects members to each other and to change-makers beyond the Coalition, creating opportunities for dialogue, mutual learning, and joint action

ILC is at a turning point: not only a network of members, we are becoming also a network of platforms for action, each with their own strategy, membership, governance, and facilitator. In addition to the well-established regional platforms, a fourth regional platform has emerged with a critical mass of members in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. In 29 countries, ILC members come together in National Engagement Strategies (NES), while 34 Commitment-Based Initiative (CBI) platforms enable members to learn from each other and to advocate on a particular common theme. During this triennium, NES platforms connected 213 organisations, including 145 ILC members, and CBI platforms connected 493 organisations, 393 of them ILC members. Globally, the ILC network took steps to becoming more structurally connected with its sister network, the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN), defined by a joint MOU.

Member-led platforms are also building trust with government agencies and contributing to building democracy from the bottom up. Some are attracting funding, becoming financially more independent from ILC, and many are drawing on ILC’s diversity to include international members such as FAO, IFAD, GLTN, Oxfam, DWHH, and Trócaire. These platforms are themselves change-makers. As they grow and become stronger and more inclusive, they become more effective in pushing for a long-term transformation of land governance.

Mobilise: ILC mobilises members with the capacities for informed and effective action

ILC has made a big leap in member-to-member learning, including South–South cooperation. Member-led platforms have benefited from capacity-building opportunities and tools such as the Learning Hub on the ILC website. The Hub features over 100 success stories from our membership in working towards achieving ILC’s 10 commitments, showcasing their competencies, and it now forms the backbone of learning opportunities for the Coalition.

One example among many is the Community Land Protection Learning Initiative, led by Namati and IIED. It brings together members from five NES countries in a year-long learning experience on securing community land rights. CBIs are also gaining recognition as innovation hubs and reference points beyond the ILC network, such as the Rangelands Initiative, facilitated by ILRI, on piloting and uptake of participatory rangeland management.

Another example, the Network Builder, launched in 2018, focuses on strengthening the institutional capacities of members, including through a leadership programme run by Procasur in LAC, Maliasili in Africa, and AFA in Asia. Already, 55 existing and potential leaders from member organisations have benefited.

ILC has also made big strides in unleashing the power of data. The Dashboard Initiative includes a monitoring framework of 30 indicators to measure people-centred land governance, and to monitor progress towards the SDGs. Pilots in Colombia, Nepal, and Senegal include members filling data gaps with citizen-generated data, which has opened up dialogue and collaboration with national statistics offices.

The Dashboard complements other data initiatives established by ILC and partners, including the Land Matrix and LandMark. The Land Matrix, still the primary global reference for data on land deals, now includes five National Land Observatories. Since its launch in 2016, LandMark, in partnership with more than 70 organisations, has mapped 12.4% of the world's land, out of an estimated 50% or more held by Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

Influence: influencing key decision-makers to engage with civil society as legitimate and necessary interlocutors and partners to achieve people-centred land governance

In this triennium, we have celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land (the VGGTs). Their application at national level with the contribution of ILC members demonstrates their continued importance as an instrument to guide land tenure reform. Over the past three years, the platforms through which members connect and take joint action have had a powerful influence on land governance in many countries:

  • 103 different change processes in 33 countries have involved member-led platforms as partners, recognised by governments, municipalities, or private sector actors;

  • 16 policies and laws in 11 countries have been changed for the better;

  • 44 practices in 22 countries in how policies or laws are implemented by government agencies and private companies have been improved.

Ultimately, members seek to bring about change at national and local levels – where it counts. An important pathway to this is advocacy aimed at regional and global frameworks that members can use to exert pressure on their governments. The Land Rights Now campaign has brought together more than 800 organisations from over 100 countries behind the target of doubling the amount of land recognised as owned and controlled by Indigenous Peoples and local communities. In turn, the campaign has directly supported the efforts of over 100 organisations, the most recent victory being Liberia’s Land Rights Law, passed by the Senate in September 2018.

There are many other examples in this report. The adoption of the UN Decade of Family Farming (2019–2028) by the UN General Assembly in December 2017 resulted from a campaign led by ILC member World Rural Forum, with IFAD and FAO, to which members of our network contributed, from national to global level. The Kilimanjaro Initiative’s Charter of Demands on women’s land rights in Africa was endorsed by the African Union. Member-led platforms built partnerships to protect Land and Environment Defenders with regional human rights bodies, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Asia. Overall, members have a high level of confidence in ILC’s transformative capacity. In the independent 2018 membership performance survey, ILC scored higher than average for confidence by members in its capacity to achieve its goal, against the benchmark of six prominent global action networks.

How Does ILC Need to Adapt? Five Changes into 2019–2021 

ILC has moved away from a short-term, project-based approach to supporting the transformative capacity of members working together. Regional platforms (with the exception of the newest) have agreed on strategies to guide and prioritise their work, and all 63 member-led CBI and NES platforms are built on a joint strategy with a medium- to long-term vision. This approach gives ILC the agility to be relevant to the context in which we work and our members’ needs.

Nevertheless, over the past three years we have faced five particular challenges that we have to adapt to in 2019–2021 in order to become more effective.

  1. Working in adverse political contexts: Member platforms aim at establishing channels for dialogue and influence with governments for people-centred land governance – which can make them vulnerable to political processes. The political crisis in Peru and Honduras and the violence and impunity in Nicaragua and Guatemala are examples of closing civic space, which undermine what NES platforms have achieved. Change is not linear and ILC will focus on providing flexible core funding for member-led platforms to help them build resilient national coalitions with a diversity of actors. Increasingly, NES processes are also pushing for change at sub-national government levels, where opportunities for change in difficult national environments may be greater. 

  2. Overcoming the fragility of some member organisations: The positive trend of members playing a greater role in leading the work of ILC also introduces a risk. ILC’s reputation is shared with the member-led platforms that it supports. Many ILC members are small, highly dependent on a single leader, and do not have robust financial or governance systems. The challenge is to protect the integrity of the Coalition, while giving full opportunity to all members to participate. In response, ILC has started a leadership programme and is providing capacity building on governance and financial administration. For members receiving larger grants, the Secretariat also supports members to undertake an audit of financial management procedures, and to implement the recommendations.

  3. Giving a stronger voice to constituency-based organisations: Membership intakes have increased the proportion of members directly representing land users: smallholder farmers, Indigenous Peoples, and women. However, despite being at the core of ILC’s mission, these organisations are not yet at the centre of the Coalition’s decision-making. ILC is facing this challenge by supporting regional and global CBIs led by constituency-based organisations, and by increasing their visibility and voice in the network. Opportunities for organisational strengthening, such as the Network Builder, also have a focus on constituency-based members, but we have to increase our efforts in 2019–2021.

  4. Full participation of multilateral members in the work of ILC: We have made much progress in identifying and facilitating the participation of multilateral organisations in NES, most notably FAO, IFAD, and GLTN, as well as CGIAR centres in CBIs. In these cases, the value of partnerships is clear to civil society and multilateral members. However, as noted by the Mid-Term Review, “the diversity of collaborating actors with ILC have much more to contribute than is currently the case” – a gap at odds with the very rationale for ILC’s unique membership. Facilitation is key to successful partnerships and we will emphasise this in the next triennium, including working to build a similar portfolio of country-level collaborations with other IGOs.

  5. Making gender justice real in the work of ILC: Despite gender justice being a longstanding core value, ILC has not made good progress in supporting its achievement across the network. For example, ILC Africa’s Gender Justice Charter, adopted in 2014, has not translated into any action. The Gender Audit and the consequent action plan are first steps towards overcoming inertia and ensuring attention to gender justice in all areas of ILC’s work.

We thank all ILC members for their outstanding achievements in 2016–2018, encourage all to learn lessons from our shared experiences, and look forward to fully developing our unique strengths as a network in the next triennium.