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

Land and Natural Resources Tenure: Rights and Policy Challenges

The increasing demand for land and natural resources brings diverse users into competition. There is a clear need to secure legitimate rights and develop effective processes to resolve disputes without conflicts. Natural resources degradation, which is an increasing challenge in many Feed the Future regions, can be addressed by integrating environmental management practices that boost agricultural productivity, increase incomes and enhance resilience to drought and other environmental shocks. Tenure and natural resource policies are needed to accompany the increased introduction of agricultural technologies.

The key for sustainable land and natural resource use is implementing policy actions that increase local and individual rights to access and manage natural resources, particularly land. The socio-economic constraints to land, water and other natural resource rights require policies that provide for joint titling of property to protect local community and women’s rights to land, expand/extend leasehold rights, allow communities to contract directly with investors, simplify registration and transfer procedures to reduce costs of formalization, encourage participatory land use planning and integrate land use and management data across government agencies (agriculture, environment, land, forestry, mining, mapping, etc.).

The lack of political and economic power for smallholders has made policy changes that favor them at the expense of special interests difficult to achieve. Changing how host governments and donor organizations work will require new approaches to both land tenure and natural resources management (NRM) practices. The challenges include:

  • Developing consistent, clear and publicly available guidelines for private sector investors that do not impose additional costs or violate trade agreements would reduce vulnerabilities for communities and investors and could help mitigate conflicts.
  • Strengthening community and individual rights to address the complexity of ownership patterns, use or lease arrangements to encourage successful larger-scale commercial investments that don’t disenfranchise smallholders or women.
  • Decentralizing control of land and other natural assets (i.e. water, forests and fisheries) to local institutions when they have been controlled and managed by central government. Government transition from a direct management role to oversight and regulatory roles may require significant shifts in human and financial resources to undertake these new responsibilities.
  • Building significant capacity to enhance decision makers, researchers and development practitioners’ ability to integrate climate change trends and potential impacts into planning over longer time-frames and geographic scale.

More secure tenure and use rights enable smallholders to maximize income by leasing land to others if production is difficult (as is often the case for women and the elderly) or by leasing additional land or natural resources themselves if they have little or no land of their own. Productivity improvements may accelerate the process of investing in land or natural resources or allow smallholders to diversify their income-generating opportunities. The result is increased smallholder incomes from both on-farm and off-farm opportunities. One benefit of improved and clarified land and natural resource tenure, rights and policy is enhanced environmental sustainability, including sustained smallholder income streams, and durable increases in agricultural productivity.

The foundation of improved NRM policy is an institutional architecture for improved policy formulation and enforcement. This foundation gives rise to more secure resource rights; devolution of authority to local institutions and individuals; improved water policy for agriculture; and improved alignment of agriculture, environment and climate change policy. These outcomes lead to strengthened policy institutions and stronger linkages with other sectors. Strengthened policies and policy institutions lead to better management of land and resources, including better private sector management, enhanced smallholder investments and improved planning within and across multiple locations and geographies.

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