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FAO. 2014. Land and Water Division Working Paper 8.
Writing date: April 2014
Type of document: Research Paper
This document was originally written in French and published electronically as FAO. 2011. Thematic Report No. 5a of The State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture (SOLAW). 34 p.
1 Growing pressure on land and water rights, growing conflict: a brief overview of the global context
1.1 Different pressures on land and water rights
1.1.1 Availability of agricultural land and water throughout the world
1.1.2 Distribution of access rights
1.1.3 Socio-economic, legal, and political variables
1.2 Conflict over land tenure and water rights
1.2.1 Conflict over land rights
1.2.2 Conflict over water rights
1.2.3 Conflict related to change in land and water management policy: some examples
1.2.4 Tensions and conflicts indirectly related to changes in land and water management policy
2 Growing pressure on land tenure and water rights that leads to conflict: causes and current trends
2.1 Growing Pressures
2.1.1 Demographic Factors
2.1.2 Climate Factors
2.2 Land Grabbing. A burning question
2.3 Are we headed for global crisis ?
There are many different kinds of land and water rights. A wide variety of rights holders - including individuals, communities, institutions, etc., enjoy temporary and/or definitive rights to use, manage, and alienate (through inheritance, lease or sale) a wide variety of resources. The idea that private property is an exclusive, absolute right is a relatively new concept. It is not currently applied everywhere and cannot be, given that it will require at least 2/3rds of the world population to change their ways (which is easier for some than others). There are just as many different kinds of rights as there are different rights holders.
These rights overlap within the same spaces and, depending on the time and place, are managed by different institutions.
Land and water rights are therefore social constructions that reflect existing power relationships and, as such, they sometimes lead to conflict. This has always been the case, but the acceleration of the social and technological change is currently creating new challenges, and existing social structures are not evolving and adapting quickly enough to confront them. It is extremely difficult to develop new means of social organization in response to these changes, especially because they are no longer exclusively local in nature and they frequently have global dimensions as well. Moreover, the social and environmental aspects of these challenges are associated with different and sometimes conflicting objectives and limitations. In this essay, the word “hotspot” refers to areas where land related conflicts or limitations are worrisome, and, by their nature, may lead to crisis. These crises may result directly or indirectly from said limitations and/or conflicts. While hotspots may require individual attention, they also shed light on broader issues and trends that are less obvious elsewhere. It is challenging to think globally about resource-related problems for variety of reasons. Territorial realities, ecosystems, and human societies widely vary from one place to another. Moreover, these differences are not frozen in time and space, territorial evolutions and dynamics fluctuate well. Land and water rights must be addressed using an approach that takes both spatial and temporal dynamics into account. Moreover, it is essential to address land and water related phenomena using appropriate temporal and spatial scales:
At the global level, we employ a general vision focused on macro differences. However, when we look more closely at different countries and regions, considerable differences appear within these broader categories. Generalizations that apply to entire continents may be inaccurate when applied to a specific region. We must avoid the trap of an excessively mechanical, simplistic approach by examining multiple levels of governance (from the local to the global). We would like to insist on the importance of sovereign states, insofar as they play a significant role in implementing laws and regulatory mechanisms. We will zoom in specific situations that speak to issues that are relevant at the national and/or global scale, without losing sight of sub continental similarities and/or trends.
Similar issues arise when evaluating temporal scales. The situations that we have chosen to label as “hotspots” have developed over long periods. At the same time, conflict is frequently caused by recent changes, which also influence the ways it is dealt with. In addressing these situations, we must evaluate past, present, and (possible) future evolutions, with a particular focus on the factors that may lead to the conflicts in the future. In doing so, we will try to identify larger dynamics at play, and to differentiate between short and long term phenomena, between factors that facilitate progressive evolution and/or reform and factors associated with sudden shifts or departures from the past, and finally, between evolutions that are permanent/irreversible, and evolutions that are not. The latter will be evaluated using different temporal scales.
This process is difficult, and inevitably flawed, it should be repeated as often as possible to reach new information and perspectives. While we can start by looking at a certain number of factors that help us understand hotspots through the lens of land and water rights, this data alone does not provide all the information we need to evaluate the different ways in which specific situations are currently evolving. We must also evaluate how a variety of different human societies has dealt with changing pressures on land and water over time. These are questions of governance, not statistics. This is why we will use two different kinds of visual representation in this document: maps based on existing data, that illustrate (with varying degrees of precision) specific situations that reflect isolated pressures, and broader visual interpretations that gloss over local particularities in order to express a general idea and/or hypothesis. By using hotspots to illustrate broader trends and issues, this chapter invites readers to think globally. If we are to do so, we must recognize fully the world’s environmental and social diversity. This will allow us to develop solutions for major 21st century challenges.