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

Women, Land, and Food: The Critical Nexus

This post was authored by Yuliya Neyman, a Land Governance and Legal Advisor in USAID's Land Tenure and Resource Management Office.

More than 400 million women around the world work as farmers. And yet, most of these women do not own the land they are farming. In fact, many do not even know that they are allowed to claim ownership over this invaluable asset. Women are estimated to comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, but own less than 10 percent of the land

Why would that be? For one, in more than half of all countries around the world, laws or customs hinder women’s ownership and access to land. In some countries, discrimination is written into the law; in others, strong and entrenched customs and norms prevent women from claiming ownership over land. The problem is exacerbated by a lack of knowledge about land law and land rights, particularly amongst women in developing countries, who are less likely than men to attend school and attain literacy. Even where land laws purport equality, discriminatory inheritance laws effectively prevent women from inheriting land. 

Why do we care? If the man in the family has secure ownership over the household’s land, shouldn’t that be enough to secure a steady income and provide for the children? As it turns out – no. 

Research has shown that when women manage household resources, including land, they are more likely to spend money on their children’s nutritional needs, education, and health. They are also more likely to engage in climate smart agriculture and to implement practices that increase the household’s resilience to climate shocks and climate change.  For example, in Nepal, children whose mothers own land were up to 33 percent less likely to be severely underweight. And in Rwanda, women with strong land rights were 19 percent more likely to engage in soil conservation

As it stands, the sorry state of women’s land ownership  – often in countries in which land is their source of livelihood – means they can’t earn income, can’t reap the benefits of foreign investment in agricultural land, can’t independently secure the future of their children, and can’t establish the financial independence necessary to leave abusive partners. USAID is working to change that through a range of programs that run the gamut from policy change and education initiatives to mapping women’s land and presenting them with formal or statutory ownership documents.  

Where are we working? In Tanzania, USAID’s MAST program is helping map women’s land rights in three villages. In the first village, women went from being unaware that they could even own land, to registering their land en masse: 30 percent of the plots in the village were registered to women alone, 40 percent were jointly registered between women and men; and 30 percent were registered to men alone. In the Kenya Justice Program, male elders were educated on the importance of women’s land rights. The result: not only did women’s access to and ownership of land increase, but so did their overall empowerment. A year after the project ended, 22 women were elected as elders, and now lead the community and resulting local disputes alongside male elders.

Learn more about how USAID is promoting women’s land rights by visiting www.usaidlandtenure.net. And, don't forget to read this post on the impact evaluations USAID is carrying out on land tenure programs.