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A Successful Social Struggle

Peasant communities successfully mobilized to implement the Tenure Guidelines and secure their customary rights, including those of women and youth


In Mali, peasant communities were facing multiple expropriations and forced evictions to give way to large-scale agro-industrial projects. These land-grabbing initiatives endangered peasants’ food sovereignty and their ability to feed the local population, as three-quarters of the land cultivated by peasants feeds into to domestic markets. To tackle this situation, peasant organizations joined forces with civil society organizations to fight for the recognition of their customary rights in the new Agriculture Land Law. Members of rural communities were mobilized, inclusive village land commissions implemented, and the Tenure Guidelines socialized within the communities and among members of Parliament. The result has been a re-assessment of customary land rights, which now include the rights of women and youth, and the legal recognition of a land tenure system that does not operate according to the neoliberal market rules of land ownership. 


In the 2000s, Malian peasants were plagued by multiple expropriations and forced evictions exacerbated by the 2008 food crisis. In the rural municipalities of Mande and Naréna, —located in West Bamako, the capital of Mali— a partnership between the local administration and individual speculators, mostly powerful national political elites via real estate agencies and foreign investors as well, had placed communities under the permanent threat of expropriation. In total, around 800,000 hectares of land have been grabbed in Mali to make way for large-scale agro-industrial projects. 

In Mandé, the municipality had to deal with the expropriation of 3,600 hectares of land by the state to resettle other communities who had been previously evicted from another area of land in peri-urban Bamako. The village of Mandé is surrounded by large sedimentary plains irrigated by the Djoliba (Niger) River where the community grows a variety of crops, from cotton to grains. The municipality is also part of the collective territory of the circle of Kati, with a tradition of community organizing that dates back to 1222 when La Charte du Manden was approved, which is often referred to as the first human rights declaration. 

Faced with such massive expropriation, the community of Mandé joined the Union of Associations for the Development and Defense of the Rights of the Defenseless (UACDDDD is its French acronym), a member of the peasant movement led by the Malian Convergence against Land Grabbing (CMAT is its French acronym), an alliance of five civil society organizations: the Association of Professional Farmers Organization (French acronyms, AOPP), the Coalition of African Alternatives Debt and Development (CAD-Mal), the National Coordination of Farmers’ Organizations (CNOP), the League for Justice, Development and Human Rights (LJDH) and the UACDDDD. CMAT aimed to ensure that customary land rights were respected and secured, and that social cohesion and food sovereignty were maintained. 

In the 2000s, Malian peasants were plagued by multiple expropriations and forced evictions exacerbated by the 2008 food crisis. A partnership between the local administration and individual speculators had placed communities under the permanent threat of expropriation



Peasants protesting land-grabs in Mali. © FIAN Internatioanal

Implementing the Tenure Guidelines: a fight to legally recognize customary land rights 

In Mali, peasant organizations like CNOP and AOPP were already actively engaged in the UN negotiations on the Tenure Guidelines and took on the responsibility of implementing them at the national level once they were adopted in 2012. Afterwards, in collaboration with the CMAT alliance, peasant organizations mobilized and brought government authorities into the debate on customary tenure rights to protect communities subject to multiple violent land grabs. They based their demands on the five general principles of the Tenure Guidelines. These include recognition and respect for all legitimate land rights holders and their rights (even those not yet protected by law) as well as transparency in the consultation process and effective participation of civil society and affected communities.

In 2014, when the country’s Agricultural Land Policy was to be adopted, CNOP undertook an initiative to create a multi-actor platform on the Tenure Guidelines under the auspices of the Ministry of Rural Development and FAO Mali. This platform evolved into a consultation framework on the guidelines with an established work group composed of a variety of actors, from government representatives to the FAO, land experts, and civil society organizations including CNOP and CMAT. The platform sought to function as both a think tank and a practical tool for making proposals to the government on land and other related issues.

In July 2014, during a national workshop organized by the Ministry of Agriculture, this platform worked together to formulate the first draft of the Agricultural Land Law. The draft included 147 articles in which collective customary land rights of communities and their security mechanisms over land were recognized. However, in October 2015, after various re-readings in inter-ministerial meetings, the Council of Ministers validated only 49 out of the 147 articles in the initial draft, effectively removing protection of customary land rights from the document. Social organizations fought back. In November 2015, members of CMAT organized a workshop to cross-analyze the two legal drafts, and a common advocacy document emerged from this process. This intervention facilitated a community training on land rights, which encouraged community members to become engaged actors in policymaking, and not just passive spectators.

From December 2015 to March 2016, mobilizations were organized to denounce the voting on the restricted version of the Agricultural Land Law in the National Assembly. Peasant and civil organizations managed to successfully postpone the planned vote. Then from April 2016 to March 2017, intense mobilizations were organized for a second year, which resulted in a hearing at the Mali National Assembly where CMAT and its allies brought forward their proposal. On March 31, 2017 the National Assembly voted on the Agricultural Land Law which included many articles from the civil-society advocacy document. On 11 April 2017, the law was finally passed.

By socializing and implementing the Tenure Guidelines, peasant communities in Mali achieved a milestone for small and traditional farmers: an official land tenure system that recognizes by law the customary rights to agricultural land of rural communities and their security mechanisms without necessarily abiding by neoliberal market rules of land ownership.

Peasant organizations mobilized and brought government authorities into the debate on customary tenure rights and based their demands on the five principles of the Tenure Guidelines



Peasants meet with local authorities. © FIAN International

Village Land Commissions: including women and youth in decision-making

Peasant organizations did not let down their guard after the law was promulgated; rather they began collaborating closely with academic experts to accompany the processes of implementing the law through village land commissions. These commissions were tasked with developing local conventions and registering community lands. They were established in 22 villages in the commune of Mandé and Narena by UACDDDD/CMAT. These village land commissions also served as a trust-building mechanism and social conflict resolution forum by promoting dialogue among the different community members. A key characteristic of these commissions is their inclusion of all members of the community: from traditional chiefs to farmers and grazers, and women and youth as well.

The inclusion of women and youth represented a substantial shift in gender norms in customary community organizing and complies with the Tenure Guidelines recommendations. Traditionally, men have occupied positions of authority such as chiefs, heads of the family, and local representatives with the power to allocate land. Too often, however, this arrangement has resulted in abuses of power wherein community land is appropriated for large-scale investments and urbanization processes. Meanwhile, although women were the most impacted by these decisions as they are responsible for reproductive care and fetching water, wood, and food from the land and forests, they were left out of decision-making processes and prohibited from voicing their opinions in public.

During the advocacy mobilizations, CMAT ensured women and youth participated in public sessions. These demographics thereby gained confidence and became more vocal about their experiences of oppression, discrimination, and land grabbing. This evolution brought about in a change in the women’s self-perception and their understanding of their fundamental rights. The women no longer saw themselves as victims, but rather as actors, and thus began to engage actively with public authorities to manage community land. Hence, customary rights were re-evaluated to include women’s and youths’ perspectives on natural resource management and to ensure equity and social justice for all members of the village.

Inclusive land commissions have proven to be highly effective in halting expropriations, as well as extractive activities such as dredging mines and artisanal gold mining on arable land. They have also stopped bushfires and abusive deforestation and improved the conservation of fruit trees. In Mandé, this process has helped the community secure their rights to 3,600 hectares previously designated for expropriation.

The inclusion of women and youth represented a substantial shift in gender norms in customary community organizing and complies with the Tenure Guidelines recommendations



Malian women in a village meeting. © FIAN International

10 key steps for setting up inclusive village land commissions by UACDDDD/CMAT in Mali
Step  Actor  Objectives 
1 Awareness Mayor plus 1 or 2 deputies,

Village chiefs or their representatives, women, and youth representatives

Presentation of the Agricultural Land Law(ALL)

Presentation of the overall process of setting up  Village Land Commissions(VLCs)

Community representatives from the sensitization meetings Restitution of sensitization meeting in a village assembly in each village

Prepare villages to become part of process

2 Community entry Village assembly from one village acts as representatives in other villages Designate the local team
3 Local team training Local team Training on roles, responsibility, and delve the ALL and setting up VLCs

Set up women and youth groups

Establish consultation forums with the city council.

Raise awareness on peasant agro-ecology and its dynamics on the land

Prepare next step: local convention process

4 Local land management agreement Village assembly Restitution of trainings  in the villages by local sensitization team and preparation of village members on the elaboration of local conventions
Village assembly Survey on land practices and customs in the village
UACDDDD/CMAT team Data processing and development of local convention
Village assembly Amendments and validation of local convention
Council Community session to validate the local convention in compliance with laws
Administration and jurisdiction Letter of submission of the local agreement registered with the Divisional Officer, the gendarmerie, and the court of first instance of the community.
5 Strengthening discussion forums Local team + women + youth + council Establish a women’s and youth group

Establish a consultation forum.

6 Training stage for administrative staff Divisional Officer, council, local team Facilitate the process of establishing VLCs so it runs smoothly
7 Setting up of VLCs Village assembly in one village acts as representatives in other villages Raise awareness and discuss the kind of the people who will be members of the VLC
 Village assembly in each village Discuss the criteria for selecting future VLC members for the establishment of  “provisional committees” of VLCs
District Officer + local team + 1 representative of the council Validation by the District Officer based on VLC minutes
8 Capacity building for VLC members Members of  VLC Role, responsibilities, and operations of VLCs
Members of VLC Assistance in collectively drafting the internal regulations
Members of VLC + the council Validation of internal regulations by VLC and legalization by city hall
 UACDDDD Specific training for reporters on roles and responsibilities,  on administrative documents: minutes, certificates, transaction documents, etc.
9 Land in peasant agroecology Communities Reflections, discussions. and holistic approach (global) based on 7 pillars of the peasant agroecology manifesto
10 Assessment  UACDDDD Assessment of VLC in each village with a monitoring chart shared at the village assembly, 3 months after start-up of the VLCs, at least during  the first year
UACDDDD Report from VLC members and the council

2 times a year / consultation forum.

UACDDDD + local team Biannual VLC feedback stage at the village assembly

Evaluation, follow-up, rectification of VLC results

Shared monitoring chart


This article has been possible thanks to the information and support of UACDDDD-MALI and CMAT.