"Unprecedented pressures on land have been created as new areas are cultivated, taken over by expanding urban centres or abandoned due to degradation, climate change and conflict," according to a paper jointly prepared by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and global corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI).
"These developments have strained the rules, processes and institutions that determine which land resources are used, by whom, for how long, and under what conditions," the working paper reads.
Striking at one of the core issues affecting agriculture and food security worldwide, the findings of FAO and TI in more than 61 countries show that weak governance has increased the likelihood of corruption in land tenure and administration, and is intensifying the impact of pressures on land use.
"The findings of the paper reflect what we have been hearing for years from farmers, herders, investors, governments and NGOs in many developing countries — that where land governance is deficient, a high risk of corruption exists," Alexander Mueller, FAO's Assistant Director-General for Natural Resources.
"Secure access to land and protection of natural resources from unbridled use is one of the keys to ensuring food security, social stability, investment, broad-based economic growth and sustainable development," Mueller added.
"Transparency and accountability contribute to a positive cycle of governance, ensuring that land resources benefit everyone and not only the powerful", said Rueben Lifuka, President of Transparency International Zambia and a TI Board Member.
"However, when transparency and accountability are absent, the risk of corruption rises and threatens to turn land into a tool of alienation of ordinary people. As a result of corruption, people lose the cultural and economic benefits of their own land resources," Lifuka added.
The working paper found corruption in the land sector varied from small-scale bribes and fraud to high-level abuses of government power and political positions.
The rush to invest in biofuels as a way to mitigate climate change is one of the pressures affecting land use in many countries, especially since "many countries with governance and corruption challenges are considered the most attractive destinations for biofuel investment," according to the paper.
FAO and TI are planning further research and meetings on corruption in land tenure.
Improving land governance
The challenge of improving land governance is currently being addressed by FAO and its partners through proposed guidelines for the international community. The Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security are currently under discussion by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS).
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