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Land rights

When the Municipality sold Boeung Kak lake for “luxury development”, the lake was filled with sand resulting in the flooding of thousands of family homes. (Credit: Emma Hardy/ Oxfam)

Three out of four people currently living in poverty survive on farming, making land an indispensable asset for more than 900 million women and men worldwide. If serious inroads into poverty eradication are to be made, secure land rights and equitable land governance are vital preconditions. They are also strongly connected with more sustainable land use, reduced conflict, and social stability.

With rising demands for food and fuel, and a wave of foreign investment, land across the developing world is under unprecedented pressure. Marginalised women, men, and communities need to benefit from new investments in agriculture, but insecure tenure, weak governance and powerful commercial interests put them at high risk of being dispossessed of land, water and other resources. Women around the world, but especially in Africa, are impacted most having far weaker land rights - to far less land - than men.

Given the fundamental role land plays in securing the quality and dignity of life, it features strongly in Oxfam's efforts to fight the injustice of poverty. In 2014, Oxfam was implementing land related projects in conjunction with local partners across over 40 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Whether supporting civil society platforms on land policy, assisting marginalised groups to gain recognition of land rights or leading global campaigns to address land grabbing, Oxfam has played an integral role ensuring secure rights to land a core element of the development agenda.

Global land programme

Through activities in over 40 countries combined with regional and global level advocacy, Oxfam's Global Land Programme aims to help empower marginalised women, men and communities to secure, control and defend their rights to the land they need for just and equitable development.

In this programme, Oxfam integrates its work at community and national level with its global policy work on land rights and land governance. By leveraging its country level programming experience, campaigning resources and advocacy expertise, Oxfam is seeking to achieve impact from local to global levels. This will help ensure that recent policy commitments such as the Committee on World Food Security's Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Tenure are translated from paper to practice. It also supports those whose land rights are most insecure in gaining a voice and demanding increased national and global attention for land governance reforms.

  To achieve this, Oxfam undertakes a series of interconnected strategies:

  • Influencing: Advocacy takes place on land issues at global, regional, national and community levels, in relation to formal policy processes, ad hoc opportunities and to hold public and private sector actors to account in upholding land rights.   
  • Capacity building: Oxfam provides technical, financial and institutional strengthening for civil society organisations engaged in land related programming.  This includes core funding and project based financing to strengthen interventions on land rights at community or national level.  Oxfam also builds capacity with government officials and parliamentarians, both nationally and regionally.
  • Alliance building: To facilitate debate, create space for different constituencies to come together, and develop joint policy positions, Oxfam supports alliance building activities and the development of land platforms. 
  • Local to global linking: To maximise programme impact and leverage Oxfam's diverse country presence, linkages are made between interventions at all levels. This is achieved by leveraging synergies across the breadth of Oxfam's land work, and by enabling all partners and staff to tap into advocacy resources and technical support.  This approach enables the voice of communities whose land rights are most at risk to be amplified into critical national, regional and global policy spaces.
  • Monitoring, evaluation and learning: To ensure all interventions contribute to global objectives, all actions are rigorously monitored. This is accompanied by multi-country learning initiatives and rigorous project evaluations to facilitate cross-fertilisation of best practice, continuous programme development and the ongoing delivery of quality interventions.

For more information on the Oxfam Global Land Programme contact Barbara Codispoti, Land Advisor, Oxfam Novib.


World Bank:  the World Bank is a key influencer on land policy and investments around the world and the single biggest international donor to land titling programmes globally. As both an investor and policy advisor for developing country governments on land, the Bank is a global standard setter with many other institutions following its policies. As such, by influencing the Bank, Oxfam influences a much wider range of actors.

For this reason, Oxfam has campaigned for the Bank to improve its policies and practices on land. From our 'Land Freeze Campaign' of 2012-13 to our exposé of damaging IFC land investments, Oxfam has successfully been pressuring the Bank to step up its game. From driving a truck around the Bank's headquarters in Washington DC, challenging it to 'Stand and Deliver' to lobbying Bank staff alongside partners from affected communities in countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, and Cambodia; from cutting-edge publications - Our Land Our Lives, Risky Business, The Suffering of Others - to working in alliance to bring change in individual cases or policy reform, Oxfam works with allies, partners and communities who have borne the brunt of land grabs,  to struggle for justice and secure land tenure rights. Find out more about Oxfam's work with the World Bank.

Global Call to Action on indigenous and Community Land Rights: A broad coalition of NGOs, CSOs and experts, co-convened by Oxfam, International Land Coalition (ILC) and Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), has organised a Global Call to Action with the goal of 'doubling the area of land recognized as owned or controlled by indigenous peoples and local communities by 2020.' A global campaign will aim to improve communities' and civil society organizations' ability to develop and implement national reforms. For more information on the Global Call to Action read 'Land Rights Now!'

Behind the Brands: Oxfam is following up with food and beverage companies, which through the Behind the Brands Campaign, have committed to respect communities' land rights and have a 'zero tolerance' for land grabs throughout their supply chains. Five companies - Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Illovo Sugar, Nestle, and Unilever - have made such commitments. Oxfam monitors and advises companies' efforts to implement land rights commitments through four components: 1) resolving known land grab cases in their supply chains; 2) conducting assessments of the risks they and their suppliers pose to and the adverse impacts they have on communities' land rights; 3) implementing general elements of their commitments, such as adhering to communities' free, prior, and informed consent, and developing grievance mechanisms, and; 4) advocating for stronger land governance, in international fora and to the governments of the countries from which they source. See the Behind the Brands website.

Australian Banks and Land Grabs Campaign: In April 2014, Oxfam Australia published 'Banking on Shaky Ground: Australia's big four banks and land grabs', showing that Australia's biggest banks are backing companies connected to agriculture and timber land grabs in developing countries. The campaign calls for ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank and Westpac to take real action on land rights and adopt a zero tolerance for land grabs approach. Tens of thousands of bank customers, shareholders and other Australians have taken action - writing letters to the banks, signing online petitions, applying pressure through social media and taking shareholder action. See here 'The big four and land grabs'.

Voluntary Guidelines on Governance of Tenure (VGGTs): Having played a role throughout the development and adoption of the VGGTs, Oxfam is active in ensuring the VGGTs are implemented and that they shape our overall land advocacy work. This involves supporting initiatives of Oxfam country teams to use the VGGTs to strengthen social movements' and to improve access and control over land and other natural resources.

Women's Land Rights and Gender Justice: Oxfam takes a gender sensitive approach to all its land advocacy work. This is embodied by Oxfam's pan-African Women's Land Rights Programme. The programme expands the space for participation and advocacy, enhances the capacity of grassroots women, and facilitates their access to key policy platforms to profile issues affecting their land access and rights. Anchored on grassroots women processes, the programme is linked with Oxfam country work on land and that of CSO allies in support of gender equality in land rights as well as policy processes at national, regional and international level


  • Oxfam called the world's 10 largest food and beverage companies to change their policies on land. Nine have done so, including major commitments from Pepsi and Coca Cola.
  • In 2012, Oxfam called on the World Bank to take a stronger stance on land. The Bank's President made firm commitments to improve how land is factored into the Bank's lending and advice, and a range of related internal reforms are in the pipeline.
  • Oxfam played a role in the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) discussions on the Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land (VGGTs), and now advocates for their implementation, and inclusion in the UN Post 2015 framework.
  • Oxfam is actively engaged in discussions around the CFS Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI).
  • Oxfam together with Rights and Resources Initiative, the International Land Coalition and IUCN convened a ground-breaking high-level conference on community land rights in Interlaken, Switzerland in September 2013.
  • At the Pan-African level, Oxfam engages with the Land Policy Initiative, and works with the Pan African Parliament and civil society networks across the continent.
  • In several countries, such as Senegal and Vietnam, Oxfam is building capacity of local partners to engage in land tenure governance reform processes.
  • Oxfam has provided targeted support to communities affected by land grabs in countries including Uganda, Indonesia, Guatemala, Tanzania, Cambodia, and Brazil, helping generate attention and credible steps toward redress.
  • Oxfam supports several national CSO land alliances, for instance in Laos, and many individual local civil society organisations focused on promoting land rights and equitable land reform.


Global Land Programme Country Snapshots

Also see Oxfam International site for more content on land, land rights and land grabs.