Strengthening land governance, local to global

Land is life for billions of people worldwide, sustaining economic activities, social identity, ecological and cultural value. IIED works with partners to secure local rights in the face of growing pressures on land.

Began January 2014
Lorenzo Cotula

Principal researcher and head of law, economies and justice programme

Law, economies and justice
A collaborative programme of work on renegotiating the law to promote fairer, more sustainable economies
A small farm.

A smallholding in Cameroon: growing economic and social pressures on land highlight the need to strengthen governance arrangements (Photo: jbdodane via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Land governance is an increasingly prominent issue in international policy agendas, cutting across public concerns about economic development, ecological integrity, social justice and cultural identity. 

Socioeconomic change has compounded pressures on land and natural resources in many parts of the world. This includes commercial investments but also deep-seated transformations in local societies. Land is often at the centre of complex disputes presenting political, emotive connotations.

While not legally binding, recently developed international soft-law instruments provide detailed guidance on improving land governance and securing local land rights, including in the context of land-based investments. 

Examples include the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT) (PDF), endorsed by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in 2012; and the Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa , adopted by the African Union in 2009. 

A key challenge ahead is to translate this international guidance into national law reforms and into real change ‘on the ground’. There is a need to develop practical approaches for securing local land rights, and to feed insights into policy processes at national and international levels.

What is IIED doing?

We support global efforts to secure local land rights, implement soft-law instruments at local, national and regional levels, and feed insights into global policy processes. 

Over the years, we have worked with: 

  • Governments and regional-level intergovernmental institutions, to develop national and regional-level policies related to land and land-based investment
  • National civil society, to support advocacy on land law reform, for example in Guinea and Cameroon
  • The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, to develop learning materials for governments, civil society and legal professionals
  • The International Land Coalition and its members, to support peer-to-peer learning, participatory trends monitoring and public reflection on land governance issues
  • Donors and development finance institutions, to develop tools and analysis for integrating VGGT guidance in their work, and
  • The UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) and the Land Portal, to sustain thinking and action among land governance practitioners, as part of DFID’s Land: Enhancing Governance for Economic Development (LEGEND) programme. 

Additional resources

Recalibrating rights, limitations and obligations in land governance, Lorenzo Cotula (2022), Land Tenure Journal Article 1-22

Written contribution to the draft General Comment on Land and Economic, Social and Cultural Right (Word doc), Lorenzo Cotula and Nathaniah Jacobs (2021), Submitted to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 22 July 2021

Land rights and investments: why the IFC performance standards are not enough: A comparison with the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure, Lorenzo Cotula (2019), LEGEND briefing 

Are development finance institutions equipped to address land rights issues? A stocktake of practice in agriculture, Lorenzo Cotula, Thierry Berger, Brendan Schwartz (2019), LEGEND report

Between promising advances and deepening concerns: A bottom-up review of trends in land governance 2015–2018, Lorenzo Cotula, Ward Anseeuw, Giulia Maria Baldinelli, (2019),  article in Land, Volume 8  Issue 7 

Blog: Dakar to Bandung: changes in land governance since 2015, Lorenzo Cotula, November 2018, IFAD social reporting blog

Towards fair and effective legislation on compulsory land acquisition in Cameroon, Brendan Schwartz, Lorenzo Cotula, Samuel Nguiffo, Jaff Bamenjo, Sandrine Kouba, Teclaire Same (2018), IIED, CED & RELUFA | en francais

Legal empowerment in agribusiness investments: harnessing political economy analysis, Lorenzo Cotula, Thierry Berger (2017), LEGEND analytical paper

International soft-law instruments and global resource governance: reflections on the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (PDF), Lorenzo Cotula (2017), Law, Environment and Development Journal, 13(2), 115-133

Land, property and sovereignty in international law, Lorenzo Cotula (2017), Cardozo Journal of International and Comparative Law, 25(2), 219-286

Responsible governance of tenure and the law: a guide for lawyers and other legal service providers (PDF), Lorenzo Cotula, Thierry Berger, Rachael Knight, Thomas F. McInerney, Margret Vidar, Peter Deupmann (2016), FAO Technical Guide

Legacy land issues: addressing historical disputes in agribusiness investments, Lorenzo Cotula, Thierry Berger (2016), LEGEND briefing

Land investments, accountability and the law: lessons from West Africa, Lorenzo Cotula and Giedre Jokubauskaite, Mamadou Fall, Mark Kakraba-Ampeh, Pierre-Etienne Kenfack, Moustapha Ngaido, Samuel Nguiffo, Téodyl Nkuintchua, Eric Yeboah (2016), IIED | en français

Land, Lorenzo Cotula (2016), chapter in Research Handbook on International Law and Natural Resources, pp. 137-154, Edward Elgar

A time for change? Comments on Chad’s Draft Land Code, Thierry Berger, Lorenzo Cotula (2015) IIED report | en français

Land rights, international law and a shrinking planet, Lorenzo Cotula (2015), IIED Briefing paper