The role that local authorities can play to regulate farmland highly depends on the possibilities that national frameworks afford for action, as well as on the financial resources they may be able to dedicate to specific land and agriculture policies. For instance, in Flanders, a large part of cities’ revenue depends on the number of inhabitants and enterprises – in other words, on how much land has been developed for housing and businesses. Cities need to find alternative financial resources if they are to protect much-needed open space. This handbook makes the case that advocacy is a non-negligible area of work for local authorities to create more possibilities for proactive land action at the local level.

Carrying out experience-based advocacy

  • Often, local authorities are first-hand observers of the shortcomings of national legal land frameworks. They can provide feedback to legislators about the hurdles they meet in implementing regulatory tools locally and thus contribute to their improvement. A local view about possible incoherence between national, regional, and local level principles of action should also be integrated when revising existing laws or making new ones.

  • Local governments are also the best placed to qualify the type of means – in terms of budget as well as political mandates and responsibilities – they need to make a difference on the ground. They can advocate for the margins of freedom and the level of decentralisation needed to carry out efficient action.

  • Finally, by applying high standards and innovating for access to land, local authorities can exemplify possible avenues for change and inspire legislative bodies. They can also document lessons learned from their work and draw conclusions on policy changes needed to support the upscaling and transfer of land innovations.

Using institutional channels and coalitions

  • Local governments have access to more direct institutional channels and have a more important political weight to appeal to senators or parliamentary representatives. They can use these platforms to convey claims for enabling access to land for agroecology and new entrants.

  • Local authorities can also have seats or representatives in bodies that establish certain policies. They can contribute to gearing policy by actively participating and channelling their constituents’ voices in these instances.

  • Using coalition representation – e.g. taking a membership in a mayors association or local authorities network – can be a more effective way to carry out lobbying, including at the EU level (through international local authorities networks such as ICLEI, NALAS, Energy Cities, and so on).

Advocating based on international frameworks

  • The United Nations’ voluntary guidelines on land tenure, Declaration on the Rights of Peasants, and overarching sustainability frameworks such as Sustainable Development Goals or climate agreements can provide grounds for local authorities to demand more enabling policy frameworks to improve land systems. These soft law instruments are meant to hold signatory countries accountable, any local government or citizen is legitimate in advocating for their application.

  • Local authorities can themselves subscribe to standards developed internationally for local governments; e.g. the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact which was signed by cities from all over the world committed "to develop sustainable food systems that are inclusive, resilient, safe and diverse, that provide healthy and affordable food to all people in a human rights-based framework, that minimize waste and conserve biodiversity while adapting to and mitigating impacts of climate change”.

Zoom on: Achieving nine sustainable development goals (SDGs) through agriculture

Key features:

  • Nine SDGs can be supported through supporting agroecological farms.

  • Municipalities who support the achievement of these goals are connecting to an international community and to a growing movement of citizens that opt for local, healthy and fair food.

Sometimes, advocacy is needed within your own local authority to convince fellow councillors or staff to take action on land. Being able to argue on how agroecological farming can objectively fulfil policy goals may help the process. Showing how your local actions line up with national and international frameworks for sustainable development is also key to convincing funders, including EU and state-level institutions. With a thoughtful land strategy, a municipality can achieve results on no less than 9 of the 17 SDGs.

Supporting agroecological farms that avoid artificial fertilisers and chemical-synthetic crop protection and limit livestock in proportion to available land protects groundwater (SDG6) and aquatic life (SDG14). By investing in soil and soil life (SDG15), farmland is less subject to erosion and reduces the risk of flooding. Moreover, through soil care, such farms build a rich humus layer capable of storing carbon, thus contributing to slowing down global warming (SDG13).

Agroecological farms diversify marketing and engage in short supply chains whenever possible (SDG8). This encourages healthy consumption (SDG2, SDG3) and contributes to a vibrant social fabric in rural areas and neighbourhoods (SDG11). Sustainable farms commit to recycling natural resources (SDG12) on-site or in cooperation with colleagues in the region.

--> Learn more: The ​​VVSG network (Flemish Society for Cities and Communities) developed a “Cookbook for circular food policy” which includes a handy SDG indicator set to help local governments on their way to integrate and monitor them as part of their food policy (in Flemish)

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