The loss will have dramatic consequences for hundreds of millions of farmers, fishermen and indigenous people, Olivier De Schutter, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, said in a report presented Thursday before the U.N. General Assembly.
"Today, 500 million small-scale farmers suffer from hunger partly because their right to land is under attack," De Schutter says.
"As rural populations grow and competition with large industrial units increases, the plots cultivated by smallholders are shrinking year after year," he says.
"Farmers are often relegated to soils that are arid, hilly or without irrigation. This poses a direct threat to the right to food of rural populations."
In India, the report says, the average landholding size fell from 6.5 acres in 1960 to 3.5 acres in 2000 and continues to decline.
In Eastern and Southern Africa, the amount of cultivated land per capita declined by half over the past generation.
"All these developments have a huge impact on smallholders, indigenous peoples, herders and fisherfolk who depend on access to land and water for their livelihoods," De Schutter says. "States should therefore confer legal security of tenure upon those persons, households and communities.
"The conclusion is clear: Access to land must be recognized as a critical human rights issue," he says.