Governing Tenure Rights to Commons: A guide to support the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security | Land Portal

Resource information

Date of publication: 
December 2016
Resource Language: 
ISBN / Resource ID: 

The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (FAO, 2012 – referred to in this guide as ‘the Guidelines’) were unanimously adopted by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in 2012, with subsequent broad international recognition and support. Their strength rests on the unique inclusive and participatory process through which they were developed. They are an instrument of soft law, but they are also strongly rooted in existing international human rights law, laying out the obligations and responsibilities of state and non-state actors to govern tenure of land, fisheries and forests responsibly, including commons. They provide internationally agreed guidance on how to recognize, protect and support legitimate tenure rights, including individual and collective tenure rights, and those employed under customary systems.

Secure tenure rights to commons are crucial for women and men, indigenous peoples and local communities in various contexts, including fisherfolk, pastoralists, farmers, landless people, and other vulnerable, food insecure and marginalized groups. They depend on commons for their fundamental well-being: for access to food, for sustaining their livelihoods, and for their cultural and social identity. The Guidelines represent a historic opportunity to guide governments and hold them accountable in assuming their duties and fulfilling their obligations to implement secure tenure for the legitimate holders of rights to commons.

By following the guidance and principles of the Guidelines, governments will contribute to translating internationally agreed goals on sustainable development into national and local realities: to respond to the livelihood needs of their people; to achieve food security and eradicate poverty; to realize the right to food, self-identification and self-determination; to support the sustainable use of natural resources and equitable access to and control of the resources; to achieve sustainable social and economic development. The Guidelines acknowledge the crucial role played by participation, and call on governments to support the activities of civil society to increase the uptake of the Guidelines’ principles.

This technical guide on Governing Tenure Rights to Commons provides strategic guidance and suggested practices for proactively implementing the standards and recommendations of the Guidelines, with the aim of recognizing and protecting tenure rights to commons and community-based governance structures. The guide was prepared by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) whose research on sustainability and land governance is based on a transdisciplinary approach. This aims to achieve the cogeneration of knowledge by actors from civil society, government and science, in order to create viable strategies for responsible and sustainable land governance. In accordance with this approach and objective, the guide was developed through a comprehensive multi-stakeholder process: the deliberation of relevant strategy recommendations took place via an international Sounding Board of commons experts, and a series of deliberation and consultation workshops with actors from various constituencies around the world.

Authors and Publishers

Author(s), editor(s), contributor(s): 

Vhugen, Darryl

Corporate Author(s): 

The Potsdam Nobel Laureates Symposium “Global Sustainability – A Nobel Cause” brought together internationally renowned scientists and decision-makers under the patronage of German Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel in 2007. The symposium produced the highly regarded Potsdam Memorandum, which calls for a joint effort to tap into “all sources of innovation and invention” to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. Specifically, it identifies the need for a new “global contract” to increase sustainability in the age of the Anthropocene.


Data provider

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa (UNCCD) is a Convention to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought through national action programs that incorporate long-term strategies supported by international cooperation and partnership arrangements.


Share this page