Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Climate-Smart Agriculture and Land Tenure

This post was written by Emily S. Weeks. Emily is a Natural Resource Management and Policy Specialist and AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow in the USAID Bureau for Food Security Policy Division, Office of Agricultural Research & Policy.

There is ample evidence that insecure land tenure and weak resource governance limit the adoption of sustainable approaches to agricultural production and food security, including climate-smart agriculture (CSA). Creating an environment conducive to agricultural growth and food security thus hinges upon strengthening resource governance and securing the land tenure and property rights of smallholders, investors, and other resource users. Secure land rights can also increase farmers’ incentives to make productive investments in their farms.

These women were once among rural India’s 15 million poor and landless families, working long hours as menial laborers for cents a day. But today they are landowners. These women were once among rural India’s 15 million poor and landless families, working long hours as menial laborers for cents a day. But today they are landowners. Photo Credit: Deborah Espinosa

In comparison to conventional agriculture, the benefits of CSA can take longer to realize. Soil conditions and productivity improve gradually through CSA practices, and, therefore, farmers are likely to need secure land tenure to switch practices and adopt CSA. For example, in the context of Agroforestry (a common form of CSA involving land use systems and practices in which woody perennials are integrated with agricultural crops or livestock), a 2003 meta-analysis of barriers to adoption across a number of empirical case studies identified tenure security as one of the most important determinants of increased agroforestry uptake, with secure tenure being a key determinant of adoption in 72 percent of cases.

In Zambia, USAID is currently testing the effectiveness of registering customary land and improving access to quality extension services on the adoption of agroforestry and other CSA practices. The vast majority of smallholders in rural Zambia use farm land that is not titled and is administered by customary chiefs and their representatives. Despite many years of external support for CSA adoption, less than 10 percent of smallholders practice agroforestry, even in areas that have been targeted by CSA extension services. USAID’s pilot is therefore testing the extent to which more secure land tenure (either alone or coupled with improved agroforestry extension) may incentivize smallholders to successfully adopt agroforestry.

Addressing land tenure insecurity will play an important role in incentivizing CSA, but it is important to note that not all CSA practices require the same level of tenure security. Additionally, to maximize the effectiveness CSA uptake, policy makers and development practitioners need to adopt a holistic approach to CSA and consider land tenure and property rights along with other constraints.

Looking for more on land tenure? Check out the Agrilinks Team's interview with Yuliya Neyman:

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