Agrarian Justice

TNI has worked with agrarian justice movements for more than two decades, supporting impoverished, vulnerable and marginalised rural working people struggling to (re)gain control of their land, water and other natural resources.

Goal (2011-2015): Through critical research and analysis, to support agrarian movements resisting land and other natural resource grabbing and asserting their rights to land and food sovereignty to enable them to build dignified, socially just and sustainable livelihoods.

Goals for 2015 Results in 2015 to which TNI contributed
Move beyond frame of ‘land grabbing’ to deepen understanding and point to issues of rural working people’s sovereignty.
  • New international “Land and Water Convergence” supported by TNI, brings struggles for sovereignty over land and water together at two meetings in Dakar in February 2015 and the World Social Forum in Tunisia
  • First academic paper picks up on TNI’s frame of ‘ocean grabbing’ and journal Marine Policy dedicates edition to examining neoliberal fishing policies

Re-energise and expand European land and agrarian activist networks to strengthen  advocacy around a new European directive on land
  • New Hands on the Land Network and 3-year campaign successfully launched, with 16 European partner organisations, commissioning several strategic papers
  • European Parliament initiates own report on access to land in Europe as a consequence of publicity around TNI’s book on the subject



Build capacity and maximise use of international land Guidelines such as the Tenure Guidelines (TG) as a tool for movements struggling for  democratic resource control
  • Changes to drafts of Mynamar Land law as a a result of workshops for social movements in Burma and the development of practical guides to TG to help empower movements
  • TNI asked by FAO Director to produce briefing on using guidelines
Support and strengthen food and land sovereignty movements in the Netherlands and internationally
  • Hundreds attend the co-organised Food Otherwise Conference in Wageningen (held February 2016) which was widely praised for inspiring action and engagement
  • Worked closely in 2015 to build the capacity of the World Forum of Fisherfolk, developing position papers, doing evaluations and supporting a delegation of WFFP delegation to COP 21 in Paris
Influence Dutch land policy through advocating for a human rights based approach within the Dutch Land Governance Multi-stakeholder dialogue.
  • Participated in the Multi-stakeholder dialogue
  • Media exposure on Rabobank’s role in land grabbing seen by more than 40,000 people
(Policy influence/capacity building): Support diverse ethnic groups’ engagement with the new Land policy framework in Myanmar
  • Organised workshops in Burma with many ethnic groups on new land policy
  • Prepared responses to the 6th draft of the Myanmar Govt National Land Use Policy after consultation workshop that led to the government adopting a number of changes related to human rights and the tenure guidelines


Project in Numbers

  • Works with partners in 51 countries
  • 2600 people respond to TNI-supported survey on land grabbing in Burma
  • Published 28 publications in English and 3 in Spanish
  • Publications viewed 5510 times; downloaded 2153 times.

Why This Issue Matters

The struggle for livelihoods, dignity and sustainability is a struggle for democratic control of resources. In our globalised economy, control of land, water and natural resources is deeply unequal. For example, small farms have less than a quarter of the world’s agricultural land and their land is shrinking as resources are grabbed by corporations and elites for the benefits of a select few. Yet small-scale farmers and fisherfolk produce up to 80% of food in developing countries. Ensuring the right to healthy nutritious food for everyone means supporting small-scale farmers and fisherfolk and their struggles.

Land grab in Europe

The Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament contracted TNI to produce a paper on land grabbing in Europe, as a consequence of the book we produced on the subject in 2014. The paper was  presented to the Committee, making a big splash in the media in the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, amongst others. It led to parliamentary questions in the Netherlands. As a result, the European Parliament decided to go ahead with its own report on access to land in Europe, contracting a special in-house rapporteur to launch an official investigation into the issue.

TNI also continued to put the spotlight on the Dutch players in European land grabbing, working closely with Eco Ruralis in Romania to further examine the role of Rabobank in land investments in the region. The research was released in a series of  articles for the Dutch current affairs magazine ‘De Correspondent’, seen by more than 40,000 people.

“The EU development framework, through such things as public-private partnerships and export-orientated agriculture, makes farmers dependent on globalised food chains, rather than treating them as investors in their own right, to be supported by public policies and investments. The result is that, in the name of food security, EU development policy is destroying small food producers across the north and south that sustainably feed the world, while privileging large agro-industry”
– Hanny van Geel,  European Coordination of Via Campesina

Hands on the land

In 2015, TNI joined with 16 European partner organisations to launch a three-year campaign, ‘Hands on the Land for Food Sovereignty’, a pan-European education and awareness raising campaign which connects struggles for food sovereignty across the global North and South.  The goal of the coalition is to put the aspirations and visions of those at the frontline of struggles for food sovereignty – small-scale fishing communities, peasants, pastoralists, indigenous peoples, young and prospective farmers – at the heart of policies which affect them.

In Europe, this requires examining and where necessary challenging EU trade, energy and investment policies to be coherent with the EU’s commitment to sustainable development and to prioritise human rights above commercial imperatives. The campaign hopes to share best practices around sustainable land, water and energy use, together with examples of positive investments in agriculture and rural development, such as agroecology, which are the key to transitioning towards climate-resilient food systems.

The campaign was launched in Milan in June. Speaking at the launch, Ibrahim Coulibaly, representative of Coordination Nationale des Organisations Paysannes du Mali (CNOP) explained the importance of the campaign: “In Mali, we have witnessed how hundreds of peasants are evicted from the land they have been working for decades, as well as arrested for resisting. Having their rights constantly violated, peasants end up migrating to the cities where they have no chance to find a job, or see themselves dying when trying to cross the Mediterranean.”

Providing expertise to movements

TNI’s expertise on agrarian issues is widely respected by social movements and has led to long-lasting relationships with groups such as Via Campesina and the World Forum of Fisherpeople. The FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (Tenure Guidelines) have proved to be an important tool for communities to assert their rights. These guidelines were approved in 2012 with unprecedented civil society involvement, but their effective application in favour of marginalised communities still requires strong engagement, struggle and political pressure.

In 2015, TNI facilitated a 3 day capacity-building workshop in Rome for La Via Campesina members from Europe and Central Asia, participated in an Amnesty International meeting on land rights, provided inputs on food sovereignty and agroecology at the World Forum of Fisherpeople congress, and helped prepare a practical guide on using the Tenure Guidelines. At the Rome FAO meetings, TNI played a technical support role for agrarian movements at the negotiations.

In the Netherlands, TNI participates in the multi-stakeholder Tenure Guidelines research group, which is supporting the Dutch Ministry’s High Level Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue.  Our expertise has led to the FAO General Director Jose Graziano da Silva requesting a policy briefing from TNI on the guidelines.

TNI continued to strengthen its relationships with and support for the World Forum of Fisherfolk (WFFP) after our ground-breaking publication on Ocean Grabbing in 2014. TNI participated in the annual meeting of the coordination committee of the WFFP, supported the Agroecology working group, and provided backup to a WFFP delegation attending the UN climate meetings in Paris, where we jointly organised a panel on Blue Carbon.


Empowering peasants and ethnic minorities in Myanmar

But it is perhaps in Myanmar, that TNI’s support for movements has had most impact in terms of land policy.  TNI researchers have worked intensively with partners  to engage communities in decisions on land policy at a critical time in the country’s political transition.

This work is embedded in research – TNI supported local partners to conduct a massive nationwide action-research undertaking (involving 2600+ individual respondents) on land grabbing/ land confiscation, and then helped facilitate six 2-day validation workshops in 4 weeks in different regions of the country, finally collating the data into a final report, published in both Burmese and English.

Based on this research and TNI expertise on land policy, staff and local partners provided expert input to government consultations, co-organised a national dialogue on Customary Tenure and Rotational Fallow Farming systems, published a response to the new land law, including a gender analysis, and publicised their work in local media. As a result, there were changes in later drafts of the law, including proposals made by our partners concerning human rights and international tenure guidelines.

TNI followed these important (although still limited) advances by supporting a unique and new multi-ethnic, right-to-land social movement network called Land In Our Hands (LIOH) to begin a collective process of building and uniting around a shared, longer term strategic vision on land and natural resource policy, which were synthesised into 6 demands. Complementing this, TNI has been supported by FAO to assist LIOH members – and other ethnic minority groups – to better understand FAO’s Tenure Guidelines and to think about how they can be used to defend and expand their community organising work.

Some of this expertise is similarly shared with farmer and fishing communities in Nigeria, South Africa, Mali and Uganda. Together with our partner FIAN, TNI is  involved in an action research project to help agrarian communities claim their rights under the Tenure Guidelines.

“The ocean grabbing report and cooperation with TNI, I really think that’s been critical in terms of reaching out to allies…. and in terms of framing the challenges that WFFP faces in that way has helped the crucial alliance with LVC.”
– Anonymous quote in evaluation of WFFP

Critiquing the bio-economy

In 2015, TNI also put a spotlight on Europe’s flagship bio-economy programme that seeks to make ‘renewable’ biological resources and biomass the source of the products, processes and services upon which the global economy is built. While a laudable aim in the context of growing awareness of planetary limits, there is a need to engage with it critically given the interests that are driving it.

TNI helped, through an accessible primer, to expose the corporate players that were capturing the agenda, the way it is increasing commodification of agriculture, and the adverse effects it is already having in terms of impacts on peasant communities and marginalised rural working people.  Over 1142 people viewed the primer. TNI also worked hard to put out a statement with various NGOs calling on the EU to remove bio-energy from its definition of renewable energy sources and the Renewable Energy Directive.

Interfacing with academia

TNI staff, in addition to supporting social movements, also brings their experiences and perspectives into academic arenas. We do this by actively supporting the participation of social movement activists in critical conferences, and by sharing our own resources and analyses with key academics and journals.

In 2015,  TNI participated in several conferences included the IDS/ Steps Center Conference on resource politics in UK, the “Land grabbing in Asia Conference”, held in Chiang Mai, the International Conference on land and territory in the Americas held in Bogota and the Rural transformations and food systems conference held in Cape Town, among others.

Our work on ‘ocean grabbing’ illustrates the impact TNI’s framing of issues can have on academic and policy debate. TNI’s primer on the subject was one of the first presentations on ‘ocean grabbing’, and its publication prompted considerable academic debate and engagement. In early 2015, the first academic article with ocean grabbing in the title came out and  the journal Marine Policy  subsequently dedicated much of its November edition to neoliberalism and fisheries policies.

TNI also continues to be a partner in two other research projects,  one on land, climate and conflict in Burma and Cambodia and another on BRICS and land grabs, participating in two major conferences in 2015 in Western Cape University and Chiang Mai University.


Sylvia Kay
Hands On the Land Project Coordinator

Dr. Jennifer Franco
Senior Research Associate

Timothé Feodoroff
Research associate (freelance)

Alberto Alonso-Fradejas
Research associate (freelance)

Zoe Brent
Research associate (freelance)

Dr. Jun Borras
TNI Fellow, Professor at the Institute of Social Studies


Elyse Mills

Key publications



  • La Via Campesina
  • FIAN International
  • World Forum of Fisher Peoples
  • IPC on Food Sovereignty


  • Hands On the Land including European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC), FIAN Netherlands, FIAN Belgium, FIAN Germany, FIAN Austria, FIAN Sweden, FDCL (Germany), IGO (Poland), EHNE-Bizkaia (Basque countries), Crocevia (Italy), Terra Nuova (Italy), Vedegylet (Hungary), Za Zemiata (FOE Bulgaria), Eco Ruralis (Romania).
  • Institute of Social Studies (Netherlands)
  • University of Wageningen (Netherlands)
  • Afrika Kontakt (Denmark)
  • HEGOA, University of the Basque Country


  • Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD), Chiang Mai University, Thailand
  • Paung Ku (PK), Myanmar
  • Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN), Myanmar
  • Land in Our Hands Network (LIOH), Myanmar
  • Land Core Group (LCG), Myanmar
  • Equitable Cambodia (EC), Cambodia
  • Community Peace-Building Network (CPN), Cambodia


  • Masifundise, South Africa
  • PLAAS, University of the Western Cape, South Africa
  • Katosi Women’s Development Trust (KWDT), Uganda
  • Friends of the Earth Nigeria/ Environmental Rights Action (ERA), Nigeria
  • Coordination Nationale des Paysannes du Mali (CNOP), Mali
  • Convergence Malienne contre les accaparement des terres (CMAT), Mali


  • Land & Sovereignty in the Americas Activist Research Collective including IPC Latin America, Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo (CLOC)/La Via Campesina Latin America
  • Food First (USA)
  • Cornell University (Philip Mc Michael and Wendy Wolford)
  • University of California Davis (Liza Grandia)
  • FIAN Ecuador, Colombia, Honduras and Brazil
  • Universidad Autonoma de Mexico (UAM) Xochimilco (Carlos Rodriguez)
  • Universidad de Zacatecas, Mexico (Raul Delgado-Wise and Henry Veltmeyer)
  • Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala (Silvel Elias)
  • Universidad de Costa Rica (Andres Leon Araya)
  • Universidad del Externado de Colombia (Dario Fajardo and Vladimir Rodriguez)
  • Universidad Nacional de Brasilia (UNB) (Sergio Sauer)
  • Universidad Estadual de Sao Paolo (UNESP) (Bernardo Mancano Fernandes)
  • Comité de Unidad Campesina de Guatemala (CUC)/LvC Guatemala
  • Asociacion de Zonas de Reservas Campesinas de Colombia (ANZORC)
  • Movimiento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) (Rita Zanoto and Marina dos Santos)
  • Movimiento Nacional Campesino e Indigena de Argentina (MNCI/LvC Argentina)
  • Consejo Internacional de Tratados Indios (CITI)
  • Base Investigaciones Sociales, Paraguay
  • Guatemalan Institute of Agrarian and Rural Studies (IDEAR)
  • Fundacion Tierra Bolivia