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

This April, Agrilinks and Landlinks Team up on Land Tenure for Food Security

This month, Agrilinks is teaming up with Landlinks and the land policy team at the USAID Bureau for Food Security to look at a critical but often underappreciated aspect of food security: land, resource and marine tenure. When the rights of farmers, fishers and other often vulnerable stakeholders in food systems do not have secure and stable rights and access to land and sea, they are much less likely to make short and long term investments that lead to increased food security and resilience. Evidence shows that secure land, marine and resource rights are associated with improved agricultural productivity and higher incomes. To take a couple of real-life examples, in Ethiopia, land certification led to land productivity increases of 40 to 45 percent in the Tigray Region, and in Rwanda, it drove farmers’ investment in soil conservation to double.

In the sidebar to the right, you’ll find a collection of important resources on the topic curated from land-links.org highlighting a few of the many important dimensions of land tenure, including country context, gender, geography, governance, and of course food security.

Below, we’ve extracted some key lessons learned on land tenure from the recently released Global Food Security Strategy Technical Guidance for Land, Marine and Resource Tenure, which you can read in its entirety here. We invite you to read on and follow the conversation in hopes you “get tenure” this April!

Lesson 1: Land, marine and natural resource policies should be viewed as a means to achieve a particular agriculture and nutrition development objective and closely integrated with other relevant policies. Often, land, marine and natural resource policies and programs are conceived without careful consideration of what they should achieve. This can lead to siloed policies on land, agriculture and natural resources, among others. Moreover, land, marine and resource policies should ensure integration of critical pieces that clearly define the rights to be formally recognized, the means of administering land and resource-related data, and how that data informs land and marine use planning. These should all be part of a coherent framework in order to achieve agricultural productivity and food security objectives. For example, if the goal is to promote increased investment and improved livelihoods for smallholders, then policy should focus on land registration and creating a land information system capable of administering subsequent transfers of land rights.

Lesson 2: A variety of rights should be formally recognized in a manner tailored to the particular needs of a locality. Often, governments attempt a one-size-fits-all approach to formal recognition of land, marine and resource rights by, for example, favoring private individualized rights over collective rights of customary communities. This can lead to unrealistic policies that undermine tenure security and consequently discourage investments to improve agricultural productivity. Support should target countries and communities to respect and promote land, marine and resource tenure of local sedentary and migratory communities, particularly those of women and smallholder producers.

Lesson 3: Where governments control and manage land and other natural assets (i.e. water, forests, fisheries), they may be challenged to devolve management control to local institutions. Government transition from a direct management role to oversight and regulatory or co-management roles may require significant shifts in human and financial resources to undertake these new responsibilities.

Lesson 4: To the extent appropriate for the local context, prioritizing tenure security for smallholder or medium-scale producers may lead to more inclusive development and significant multiplier effects. Tenure security for smallholder or medium-sized agriculture can lead to increased investments on the land and resultant improvements in productivity. Over time it also leads to improved land markets and natural resource allocation. People often feel secure when they have a full set of use and transfer rights of sufficient duration to recoup any labor and capital they invest in land or property and when they are able to enforce those rights against the claims of others. 

Lesson 5: Policy consistency and transparency are important to promoting investment, whether by local or international investors. Different standards may penalize foreign investors by imposing additional costs and may violate trade agreements. Developing consistent, clear and publicly available guidelines for these procedures would reduce vulnerabilities for communities and for investors and would help reduce conflicts that increasingly arise because expectations are not aligned. The Analytical Framework for Land-Based Investments in African Agriculture is designed to help investors ensure that their land-based investments respect human rights and are inclusive, sustainable and transparent.

Lesson 6: Approaches to ownership or use arrangements should encourage commercial investment but not disenfranchise smallholders, women or vulnerable groups. In promoting commercial investment, it is important to strengthen the rights of vulnerable communities and individuals to manage and benefit from the use of the land and resources they have traditionally controlled. Commercial investments that rely on participatory engagement of a range of community members can strengthen women’s land rights.

Lesson 7: Secure rights for women and vulnerable groups tend to provide greater benefits to households. When women have secure rights to land or resources, they make investments to improve land or natural resources and acquire better quality inputs, participate in land rental markets, and can earn more income — up to 3.8 times more in an example from Tanzania. These decisions improve the food security and nutrition of the entire household: children whose mothers own land are up to 33 percent less likely to be severely underweight in Nepal and 10 percent less likely to be sick in Vietnam. More secure tenure and land use rights also enable smallholders to lease land to increase the size and diversity of their operations.