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Land Tenure Security and Poverty Reduction

Display Date: 11/23/17

Competition for land has never been greater. Pressure on land is increasing as a result of a rising world population, climate change, declining soil fertility and the need for global food and fuel security. With governments and businesses now recognizing the potential of growing biofuel crops on land that cannot sustain food crops, even less fertile agricultural land may now have value. Desertification and reduced availability of water compound these issues.

There are some 1.3 billion extremely poor people in the world, struggling to survive on less than US$1.25 a day. About 70 per cent live in the rural areas of developing countries. In rural societies, the poorest people often have weak or unprotected tenure rights. They therefore risk losing land they depend on to more powerful neighbours, to private companies – domestic or foreign – and even to members of their own family. Women are particularly vulnerable because their land rights may be obtained through kinship relationships with men or marriage. If those links are severed, women can lose their rights.

When insufficient attention is paid to secure access by small-scale producers and to land tenure issues, development projects can become part of the problem. For example, when irrigation is introduced into previously rainfed farmland or roads are built to link farmers to markets, the new economic potential of the land makes it more attractive, and small-scale producers can lose out to more affluent or powerful settlers.

Tenure security is important not only for agricultural production. It also allows people to diversify their livelihoods by using their land as collateral, renting it out or selling it.

Tenure issues affect the everyday choices of poor rural women and men, such as which crops to grow and whether crops are grown for subsistence or commercial purposes. They influence the extent to which farmers are prepared to invest in the long-term wellbeing of their land or to adopt new technologies and innovations. Lack of secure land tenure exacerbates poverty and has contributed to social instability and conflict in many parts of the world.

Today, public and private corporations are investing in millions of hectares of land in Africa, Asia and Latin America to produce food or biofuels. This trend offers developing countries an opportunity to attract foreign and domestic investment that raises agricultural productivity, but it also brings a potential threat to the land rights of small-scale producers and indigenous communities.

Even when land is classified as communal, under-utilized or marginal, it may provide a vital base for the livelihoods of poor people, who use it for crop farming, herding, or collecting fuelwood or medicines.

Land tenure security – for both women and men – is just one step on the road to reducing rural poverty. Measures to increase tenure security must be complemented by pro-poor policies, services and investments. Policies beyond the national level are needed to address such issues as use of irrigation water, migration, pastoralism and conflicts that cut across regional and national boundaries.

IFAD and land tenure security

IFAD uses various tools and approaches to strengthen poor rural people's access and tenure and their ability to better manage land and natural resources, individually and collectively. These include:

·         recognizing and documenting group rights to rangelands and grazing lands, forests and artisanal fishing waters

·         recognizing and documenting smallholder farmers' land and water rights in irrigation schemes

·         strengthening women's secure access to land

·         using geographic information systems to map land and natural resource rights, use and management

·         identifying best practices in securing these rights through business partnerships between smallholder farmers and investors

IFAD's partners in this endeavour include governments, civil society organizations, development institutions and other United Nations agencies, particularly the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). IFAD is also a founding member of the International Land Coalition and hosts its secretariat. In 2008, IFAD's Executive Board endorsed a new policy on access to land and tenure security, underscoring the importance of land issues to the organization.

IFAD has collaborated with FAO and the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to formulate the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests, which were formally endorsed by the CFS in May 2012. IFAD is also a partner in the development of the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment, together with FAO, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the World Bank.

The seven principles cover issues such as recognition of existing land rights, strengthening food security, transparent processes, consultation and respect for the rule of law.

IFAD worked with the African Union Commission and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa to draft pan-African land policy guidelines.

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