Agrarian & Environmental Justice

Agrarian Justice

Messages posted during the Nyeleni Europe Forum

TNI has worked with agrarian justice movements for several decades, supporting impoverished, vulnerable and marginalized rural working people struggling to (re)gain control of their land, water and other natural resources. In 2016, we merged this work with our long-term work on environmental justice, in which TNI has challenged the role corporations have played in destruction of the environment, both directly as a result of their operations and also indirectly through their capture of government policy and promotion of unjust and ineffective market-led solutions.

Goal (2016-2020): To improve climate, energy and food security policies that would redirect trade and investment towards sustainable and inclusive food and energy systems, and which would genuinely address climate change challenges.

Goals Outcomes in 2016 to which TNI contributed
Strengthen capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Colombia, Myanmar, Cambodia, The Philippines and Europe to resist mining-energy and agroindustry projects that undermine food and land sovereignty
  • TNI was recognized as an organization that provides reliable and trusted technical support on key issues to many local CSOs and local CSO networks, including, for example, many local CSOs in Myanmar working on ethnic land rights and on land and natural resource issues generally, including numerous ethnic armed groups (both those that have signed and those that have not signed a ceasefire agreement with the government).
  • TNI strengthened the Europe-based Hands on the Land campaign through the highly successful Nyéléni Europe Forum in Romania that brought together 500 people to discuss positive proposals for access to land in the South and in the EU.
  • In Colombia, TNI’s communications and advocacy support for work against the El Cerrejon coal mine added momentum to a campaign that led the constitutional court to declare the diversion of the Arroyo Bruno (an important water source) as illegal because it was not consulted on with local communities.
EU policies that favour land concentration and land grabbing are analysed and questioned. Much of TNI’s work in this area is done through our leadership in the Hands On the Land campaign, carried out with 16 partners whose official goal is to mobilize European support for sustainable management of natural resources and the human right to food.
  • The Hands On The Land campaign organised 800 activities conducted (over the last 2 years) across Europe, reaching more than 40 million Europeans through media outlets, engaging 600,000 people, educating 50,000 and actively engaging 8,000 members of civil society and decision-makers in discussing and taking positions on natural resource management issues.
  • TNI’s analysis on land grabbing and land concentration in Europe was used by 30 MEPs as an input for their work on a new resolution on land policy in the EU.
  • The Netherlands Development Finance Corp, FMO, acknowledged  problems with the Agua Zarca hydro-power plant project and announced withdrawal of funding in the wake of environmental activist Berta Caceres’ assassination and in response to a global solidarity campaign that included advocacy work by TNI and other Dutch organizations.
  • TNI lent key research support to an official EU Parliamentary study on the human rights impacts of European companies’  involvement in land grabbing in other regions outside Europe.
TNI publications, and framing of issues such as our series on ‘flex crops’ are used by civil society organizations. (Flex crops seeks to unpack the complexity of globalized food regimes, where crops such as corn increasingly serve multiple uses and involve complex production chains. This understanding enables activists to mobilize effectively.)
  • Flex crops and commodities were incorporated in discourses at the Land  and Water Convergence held in Mali in March, attended by 60 organizations.
  • TNI’s  ‘flex crop’ terminology was cited 86 times in Google Scholar during 2016.
  • The framing was presented and discussed by different scholars at venues such as the Initiative of Critical Agrarian Studies (ICAS) colloquium, the Land and Territory conference, and the BRICS Initiative in Critical Agrarian Studies (BICAS) conference.
The UN’s Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT) and the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries (VGSSF) are actively used by peasant and fishing communities to secure access to and control over land, water and other natural resources by communities in Cambodia, The Philippines, Myanmar, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali and South Africa.
  • TNI was called upon – by La Via Campesina and World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP) – to provide academic, political and technical support to communities seeking to use the VGGT and the VGSSF.
  • CSOs in four countries in sub-Saharan Africa explored use of the VGGT in natural resource struggles. TNI accompanied the Katosi community in Uganda and is writing up the learning.
  • As a result of TNI support, an Indonesia WFFP partner, KNTI, will pursue a community audit of Jakarta Bay reclamation project using the VGSSF.

Project in numbers

  • 14 briefings and reports
  • 500+ people from 43 countries representing 290 civil society organizations and social movements attended the Nyéléni Europe Forum for Food Sovereignty
  • Co-led five international networks, collaborated with three major international social movements, and supported strategic partners in seven countries
  • Co-organized 41 seminars and workshops attended by 2,926 people

Why this issue matters

The struggle for livelihoods, dignity and sustainability is a struggle for democratic control of resources. In a globalized 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. Moreover, climate change adds further pressures on communities, as extreme weather impacts on crops and land and as corporations seek to use it as an excuse to further entrench corporate-led false solutions. The reality, however, is small-scale farmers and fisherfolk produce up to 80 per cent of food in developing countries and are the only ones feeding the world in sustainable ways. TNI believes that to build sustainable and equitable food and energy systems, we need to properly identify the causes of dispossession, obstruct false solutions promoted by corporations, and support real solutions led by farmers, fisherfolk and communities.

Building the European food sovereignty movement

In 2016, TNI invested staff time, political support and resources into the organization of the historic Nyéléni Europe Forum, which brought together 500 farmers, food and agricultural workers, trade unionists, researchers, activists, fisherfolk, pastoralists, indigenous peoples and consumers committed to food sovereignty. The Nyéléni movement was born in Mali in 2007, and is a global movement that advocates for local, democratic ownership of our food, for land and food sovereignty.

The meeting, held in Romania in October, was a defining moment for the dynamic food sovereignty movement in Europe, helping to develop a common agenda, strategy and proposals. The meeting helped bridge and unite movements from western and eastern Europe as well as Central Asia and cemented existing alliances such as the Hands on the Land campaign hosted by TNI. An active public policy working group, for example, was set up to engage with the next round of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. TNI acted as the focal point for organizing the Dutch delegation for the Forum and also facilitated the participation of a delegation from Myanmar in order to bring in fresh perspectives and open up North-South dialogue.

The Nyéléni Europe Forum was a major landmark event in a three-year pan-European education campaign, ‘Hands on the Land for Food Sovereignty’ in which TNI plays a coordinating role. This campaign, launched in 2015, brings together 16 European partner organizations with the goal of putting 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 that affect them.

Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.... it ensures that the rights to use and manage lands, territories, waters, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those of us who produce food. Food sovereignty implies new social relations free of oppression and inequality between men and women, peoples, racial groups, social and economic classes and generations. (Nyeleni Declaration 2007)

EU land grabs

TNI’s coordinated landmark publication, Land concentration, land grabbing and people’s struggles in Europe, in 2013 continued to have ripple effects three years after its publication. After TNI was asked to produce an official study on farmland grabbing in the EU for the European Parliament in 2015, the European Parliament's Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (COMAGRI) decided to move ahead with its own in-depth investigation on access to land/land grabbing in Europe.

In 2016, TNI, in the context of the Hands on the Land alliance, forged strong links with many MEPs in the process, holding regular advocacy meetings and organizing a joint conference on the subject with Green MEPs in the Parliament in December, attracting 140 EU policy-makers and practitioners. TNI also co-organized a series of workshops on the issue with Hands on the Land partners in Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Romania, attracting over 200 participants from civil society, research, and farmers' organizations.

In addition, TNI was also involved in lending key research support to another official EU study, this time for the European Parliament's Subcommittee on Human Rights on the involvement of European corporate and financial entities in land grabbing outside of the EU.

Alliances and support for frontline social movements

TNI is considered a trusted ally by peasant movements and small food producers for our research, logistical and political support. TNI works closely with Via Campesina, which represents around 200 million small and medium-scale farmers worldwide, and the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP), which represents over 10 million small-scale fisherpeople. TNI has worked particularly closely with the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty's working group on land and fisheries, whose members include LVC and WFFP, providing technical expertise as they enage with the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Committee on Food Security (CFS).

In 2016, TNI helped coordinate guidelines that drew on the CFS’ recommendations and outlined the policies needed to connect smallholders to markets. Drawing on contributions from 50 organizations, the Connecting smallholders to markets guide has been an invaluable tool for small-scale producers and more than 1,000 copies have been distributed. The evidence gathered in the guide has also been used to win policy support for these vital food markets at the CFS.

TNI has provided similar support to the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP) at the Committee for Fisheries (COFI) at FAO. In 2016, TNI provided technical support to the WFFP in their negotiations around the implementation of Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Small Scale and Artisanal Fisheries, the first and only international instrument dedicated to securing the human rights of fisher peoples. At the meetings, two competing visions emerged, one centred on user rights and another on human rights. Later in the year, TNI co-published a paper that highlighted the differences and proposed actions fishing organizations could take to defend their livelihoods.

TNI has also sought to see how the new VGGT and VGSSF could be used by communities threatened with land, forest, fisheries and water grabbing. Joining with three other international organizations, TNI supported four civil society organisations in Mali, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda with political, technical and academic support as they tested the use of the guidelines in their own contexts. TNI worked most closely with fishing communities in the Lake Victoria region of Uganda (Katosi), supporting their struggle and reflecting together on the outcomes. The result has been a series of small but significant victories with the communities succeeding in preventing businessmen from claiming access to their lands. It has also generated new cross-regional relationships, with fishers from Aniston, South Africa for example travelling to Indonesia to share their experiences. The learning is being developed into a series of videos and articles as well as a popular education booklet (published in 2017).

By working and building trust, TNI has been invited to participate at the internal discussion spaces of major international social movement networks, such as the European Coordination of Via Cammpesina (ECVC) assembly and the Trade Unions Confederation of the Americas (TUCA) general congress and Grupo Carta de Belem.


Empowering peasants and ethnic minorities in Myanmar

Participant in Myanmar Opium Farmers Forum
Participant in Myanmar Opium Farmers Forum

As Myanmar opens up politically and economically, TNI’s accompaniment work of local citizen organizations has expanded along with it. TNI researchers have worked on analysis and training for and with community leaders on land and investment policies who have used that knowledge to advocate for their own priorities. TNI’s approach and philosophy of embracing a support role for local movements, rather than promote our own profile, has made us a trusted partner.

TNI spent much of 2016 involved in a series of 10 workshops with ethnic community groups on how to defend their rights to land at a time of political and economic transition. This included a 5-day workshop in December for the eight ethnic armed organizations that signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) as they prepared for the 21st Century Panglong Conference. Many of these workshops helped coalesce demands and advocacy on the right to land and have led to the emergence of new civil society coalitions, such as the Land in Our Hands network.

TNI has sought to be as responsive to local needs as possible. This has led to workshops in regions typically ignored by the government and international NGOs, but also led to TNI developing new areas of work looking at, for example, the rights to restitution of land for internally displaced people and refugees. TNI has supported many of these meetings with expert input, research analysis, drafting of proposals and requested follow-up.

Finding an equitable solution that provides access to land for the many people displaced by armed conflict in Myanmar will be essential to the success of any peace process in Myanmar. TNI therefore organized consultation meetings on IDPs' right to land in March, June and October. The October meeting in Kachin State was attended by the Kachin Minister of Social Welfare and other state-level officials from various departments, including the Forestry Department, and established the basis for ongoing work with local partners, in which TNI will provide technical support for a baseline research study on IDPs' right to land in Kachin and northern Shan State in 2017.

A great deal of learning from this mutual work with partner organizations was collated in a primer, published in January 2016, entitled The meaning of land in Myanmar.

“We never had a workshop like this. We want to work together, and make our own policy.”

Participant in Kengtung workshop, August 2016

Bridging scholars and activism

TNI’s agrarian and environmental justice work is renowned for its bridging of activist and academic worlds. Throughout 2016, we continued to make those bridges, bringing together activists, academia and policy-makers at the Initiatives in Critical Agrarian Studies (ICAS) colloquium in the Hague (February), the Conference on Land and Territories in Bogota (August), and the BRICS Initiative for Critical Agrarian Studies (BICAS) conference in Beijing (November).

The colloquium in the Hague has become a renowned fixture in the calendar,  attracting 400 participants in 2016 with 200 more wishing to attend. The colloquium analysed the privatization of global governance in the areas of land, conflict and climate, engaging TNI’s trade & investment, corporate power, drugs and Myanmar projects.

Building on the colloquium, TNI launched a call for papers by young researchers on Agroecology and Urban Food Policy in August, which received over 90 high-quality submissions in a matter of weeks. Six researchers from six countries were selected, who attended various events and will produce research papers in 2017.

TNI continues too to be a partner in MOSAIC, an action research project focused on the land/climate/conflict nexus in Myanmar, Cambodia and more recently The Philippines, which complements our work in Myanmar.

The expertise TNI has built up has meant that TNI staff are frequently called upon to provide input at activist gatherings. Some of these events in 2016 included an activist gathering in Denmark (October), talks during the Swedish Food Sovereignty Week & Human Rights Days (November), and Seminars on Public Policies for Food Sovereignty in the Basque country (November).



Lyda Fernanda Torrero
Project Coordinator

Dr. Jennifer Franco
Senior Research Associate

Sylvia Kay
Hands On the Land Project Officer

Timothé Feodoroff
Research Associate

Alberto Alonso-Fradejas
Research Associate

Zoe Brent
Research Associate

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

Katie Sandwell
Programme Assistant


Ruben Rosenberg Colorni

Key publications



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


  • 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 country),  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
  • Office for Human Rights Action on Colombia (OIDHACO)
  • Observatorio de Multinacionales en América Latina (OMAL)
  • RE-Common
  • ATTAC France
  • Fern
  • Corporate Europe Observatory


  • 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
  • Trade Union Confederation of the Americas
  • Jubilee South Americas
  • Grupo Carta de Belem
  • CENSAT Agua Viva, Amigos de la Tierra Colombia
  • Comisión intereclesial de Justicia y Paz
  • REDES Amigos de la Tierra Uruguay
  • CUT Brasil
  • CESTA Amigos de la Tierra El Salvador
  • World March of Women