Sevilla, 12, 13 y 14 de junio de 2019

Land is an essential natural resource. Forty percent of the world’s land is dedicated to agricultural and livestock production and ninety percent of our food comes directly or indirectly from it. Access to land facilitates also the livelihood of a significant amount of people, consisting on small-scale agriculture and other activities belonging to the primary sector, such as livestock, hunting-gathering, artisanal fishing, etc. These populations largely use public or community lands. More than two billion people have access to these lands, also called commons or commons. In other cases, even in greater numbers, the populations depend on lands with legal titles of tenure not formalised or adequately protected legally; in many cases they are indigenous populations. While they have historical roots, these titles are often informal and precarious.

However, these traditional situations of land tenure have been lately suffering significant adjustments, so international law is being force to provide a response to protect those communities.

The most obvious example of these concerns is the so-called phenomenon of “land grabbing” or large-scale land grabbing, which implies that mostly private companies and investment funds coming from different countries acquire huge amounts of land to ensure the provision of food and raw materials. While it is difficult to record actual data regarding these acquisitions, the magnitude of this phenomenon is highly significant. Yet in 2008 and 2009 between 39 and 45 million hectares were affected by this problem, as the World Bank recognised in its 2010 report. Nowadays, it is estimated that at least 134 million hectares are affected by this phenomenon. Most update data can be found in this sense on the LandInfo website and in the reports of the Land Matrix organization.

But the threats that hover over the use of the land are still greater. In particular those related to climate change and threats to sustainability, such as lateralization of soils, droughts, loss of fertility, erosion, and lower productivity due to increased temperatures.  While they are part also of natural processes, it is not doubt that human influence can be decisive in those cycles, both positively and negatively. This has been highlighted by FAO alarmingly. Twenty-five percent of the world’s agricultural soils are severely degraded. The problem has even reached the European Commission which indicates that sixteen percent of European arable land is affected by some degradation. Even practices of fleecing and depleting the soil are being observed until they are rendered useless. The intergovernmental group of experts on climate change has also estimated that eighty-nine percent of all greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture can be mitigated by increasing soil organic matter.

Challenges are complex and manifest in different ways , such as the destination of land for biofuel, a recommended practice for the use of marginal lands, (although in practice this is not followed) and  the aggravation of the agriculture-livestock conflict together with the loss of land for transhumance which is the livelihood of more than two hundred million people in the world.

Against this background, International Law must react and find legal solutions to the main problems above-mentioned. There have already been some initiatives from FAO such as voluntary guidelines on responsible governance of land or principles on responsible investment. But above all, we must highlight the Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group on the Rights of Peasants and Other Persons Working in Rural Areas, created by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September 2012, through the Resolution 19/21, and that has culminated with the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other persons working in the rural world that has just been approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in this session.

It is particularly remarkable its Article 17, dedicated to the Right to land and other natural resources, which expressly states that «peasants and other persons living in rural areas have the right, individually and collectively, to the lands, water bodies, coastal waters, fisheries, pastures and forests they need to achieve an adequate standard of living, have a place to live in security, peace and dignity and develop their culture». This regulation is completed with six more paragraphs that include issues of maximum interest (including the principle of non-discrimination, legal recognition of titles, protection, restitution, land reform and measures for conservation and use sustainable)

Accordingly, this scientific meeting is necessary to promote inter-institutional and interdisciplinary research, with a clear role for the University of Seville, with the purpose of creating links, cooperating and providing information to the population, the scientific community and political and social actors. The study of this right and its clarification therefore has a greatest scientific interest.

In this respect, an international call for papers will be opened, hoping that it will have the greatest diffusion and participation. Consequently, the objectives of this Congress are:

  • Promoting interdisciplinary research, the generation of knowledge and experiences in order to guarantee sustainability in natural resources, such as the Earth, for all in a fair, sustainable, equitable and healthy way.
  • Generating knowledge and debate between the international scientific community and the key international political and social actors and networks in the matter, in order to promote research initiatives and the adoption of public policies on human rights and the Earth.
  • Contributing to a better international regulation of access to land, guaranteeing its sustainability and productive value, as well as protecting the large population groups whose livelihoods depend on it.
  • Encouraging the debate and bringing together the opinions of speakers and attendees to reach joint conclusions, fostering cooperation and collaboration of the different agencies participating in the activity. Encouraging the development of the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other people working in the rural world.