Strengthening land governance, local to global

Began January 2014

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.

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. 


The Right to Land, Lorenzo Cotula (2022), Book chapter, Routledge, Oxford

Supporting an enabling legal environment for women’s empowerment in food and agriculture, Deborah Rubin, Philippine Sutz (2021), Briefing | en français

Promoting participatory law-making for recognition of legitimate tenure rights, Rachael Knight, Thierry Berger (2021), Briefing | en français

Land and labour: agricultural workers’ tenure rights, Nathaniah Jacobs, Lorenzo Cotula (2021), Briefing

Tenure rights in large-scale and artisanal mining: implications of the Tenure Guidelines, Abbi Buxton, Brendan Schwartz, Lorenzo Cotula (2021), Briefing

Legal empowerment to promote legitimate tenure rights, Rachael Knight (2021), Briefing | en français

Tenure rights and obligations: towards a more holistic approach to land governance, Lorenzo Cotula (2021), FAO legal papers, 106, Report/paper

How collective action can influence the direction of a land reform: lessons learned from civil society mobilisation in Senegal, Philippe Lavigne Delville, Daouda Diagne, Camille Richebourg (2021), Research report | en français

Towards a political economy of the COVID-19 crisis: Reflections on an agenda for research and action, Lorenzo Cotula (2021), World Development journal article

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


Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO)

Agence Française de Développement (AFD)

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)


Over the years, we have collaborated with a range of international partners, including:

African Land Policy Centre 

Comité Technique Foncier et Développement (CTFD)

International Land Coalition (ILC)

Overseas Development Institute (ODI)


Natural Resources Institute (NRI) 

Land Portal

African Development Bank Group

Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI)


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