Governing Tenure Rights to Commons: Guidelines Present Strategies and Examples from the Field

New guidelines developed under the leadership of IASS researchers provide strategic advice on securing tenure rights to commons.

Millions of people around the world depend on commons for their fundamental well-being. These natural resources, which often include land, fishing grounds and forests, are used collectively for grazing livestock, hunting and fishing, growing foodstuffs and fodder, and as a source of firewood. Commons provide a source of food and income and an important safety net in times of hardship, especially for marginalized and vulnerable people. They are also essential to people’s culture and identity.

However, legitimate tenure rights to commons are often not recognized and protected by national law. And even where such rights are granted legal recognition on paper, they are often not enforced and implemented in practice.

Guidelines for responsible governance

In 2012 representatives from governments, civil society, the private sector and academia at the UN Committee on World Food Security agreed on an international, human rights-based standard for the responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests – the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (short: Tenure Guidelines/VGGT).

The FAO has already published a number of guides on key aspects of tenure rights to commons to support the implementation of these standards and principles. The most recently published guide – “Governing Tenure Rights to Commons” – was developed in cooperation with a broad range of stakeholders under the leadership of a working group of the Global Soil Forum at the IASS. The publication provides detailed strategic guidance and recommends specific practices for states, communities, civil society organizations, and the private sector to recognize and secure legitimate tenure rights to commons.

The guide outlines twelve strategies across three areas of action:

  1. the legal recognition and protection of tenure rights to commons;
  2. their effective implementation by states and rights holders alike;
  3. and the support of communities to enjoy their rights.

Presenting interlinking strategies complemented by seven case studies from around the world and recommendations for adapting the guidance to national and local contexts, the guide aims to inspire and support stakeholders to make a difference and contribute to transformative change by making responsible governance of tenure rights to commons a reality.

The guide was developed in an extensive process that included a sounding board and six international workshops. This multi-actor process ensured that the guide is informed by lessons and strategies gathered in the field by numerous individuals, civil society organizations, state officials, scientists and international organizations in their efforts to secure tenure rights to commons.

The guide is supported by an animated film, titled “Caring for Commons – Securing legitimate rights”, which explains the key strategies.

Caring for Commons - Securing legitimate rights