Secure access to land, water and other natural resources: the essentials of fighting rural poverty
IFAD Asset Request Portlet
Secure access to land, water and other natural resources: the essentials of fighting rural poverty31 August 2007
By Lennart Båge, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), published in the Commonwealth Ministers reference book 2007
When I think about the power of investing in agricultural and rural development, I think about Alimatou Mahama, whom I met last year in Tamele in northern Ghana. Alimatou used training, veterinary and microcredit services from an IFAD-supported project to raise goats, an opportunity previously denied to women in her part of the world. The difference these services made in her life is astounding. Alimatou still lives in a village of mud huts. But today she sends her children to school, she provides better food for her family, and she is earning her own income. Her story shows how even modest investments in agricultural and rural development can spark exceptional and sustainable results when rural people have secure access to land, water and other natural resources.
At the Millennium Summit in 2000, the international community committed to reducing by half the proportion of the world's people who live in extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. This year marks the halfway point. Much progress has been made, for example in raising the incomes of millions of poor people in Asia. But overall, progress has not been fast enough. Some 1.1 billion people are still suffering from desperate poverty and hunger. In some countries in Africa, poverty and hunger are actually increasing.
Investments in agriculture can transform economies and pay high dividends in terms of quality of life and dignity for poor rural people.
Many of those left behind are rural people – the small farmers, landless workers, herders, fisherfolk and artisans who depend on agriculture and related activities to survive. Seventy-five per cent of the world's extremely poor people live in the rural areas of developing countries – over 800 million women, children and men. One-quarter have no secure access to land. In many areas, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities make up a disproportionate number of the rural poor, and in all areas women are the most vulnerable and marginalised.
Agricultural investments drive economic growth
Investments in agriculture can transform economies and pay high dividends in terms of quality of life and dignity for poor rural people. They can drive broader economic growth, setting the stage for long-term sustainable development. Indeed, investments in agriculture are more effective in raising people out of poverty than investments in any other sector.
At IFAD, our mission is to enable poor rural people to overcome poverty. We believe that the fight against rural poverty can help underpin peace, security, quality of life and environmental sustainability. Our members and contributors understand that increasing investment in agriculture is essential to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). IFAD will invest US$2 billion over the next three years to increase the productivity, incomes and food security of poor rural people.
Unfortunately, overall investment in agriculture remains far below the level required to achieve the MDGs. In fact, aid for agriculture from all donors fell between 1995 and 2002. There are some signs that governments and development partners recognise the need to give higher priority to agriculture. I hope that this will be increasingly reflected in higher investments in agriculture and rural development; we shall see. But increasing investment will be effective only if poor rural people have access to the land, working capital, markets and other assets they need to overcome the barriers they face.
Community-specific solutions work
One of the most important lessons that we at IFAD have learned from our 30 years of experience in agricultural and rural development is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to poverty. Nor can any single organisation or country solve this problem alone. The conditions and levels of economic development that poor rural people face vary so profoundly that country- and community-specific solutions are needed. And these solutions must be rooted in the aspirations and priorities of poor people themselves.
Studies show that inequitable distribution and lack of access to land are often the driving forces behind poverty and hunger, as well as the roots of armed conflict and civil war.
Security of tenure influences decisions
Poor rural people tell us that secure access to land, water and other natural resources is one of their highest priorities. In fact, studies show that inequitable distribution and lack of access to land are often the driving forces behind poverty and hunger, as well as the roots of armed conflict and civil war.
Moreover, access and tenure security influence the decisions poor people make about land and their options. Access and tenure influence the extent to which farmers are willing to commit money, their ability to obtain credit, and how much labour they are willing to invest to improve productivity, manage natural resources, and adopt new sustainable practices and technologies.
We cannot expect poor rural people to invest their energy and money in improving agricultural productivity and managing land sustainably when there is no promise that the long-term benefits of these investments will accrue to their families.
Furthermore, when poor people have no option other than to overwork the resources they depend on, a cycle of environmental degradation is set in motion that ultimately lowers productivity and increases their vulnerability to disaster. Eroding soils, damaged watersheds, floods and landslides, and a host of other disasters can quickly undermine communities, threatening their health, livelihoods and security. With growing populations, increasing water scarcity, and the effects of climate change, pressures on natural resources and tenure systems have increased.
Enormous inequity in wealth and power relations can make poor rural people with tradable land title more vulnerable to losing their rights and to indebtedness.
Ultimately rural people and communities are the stewards of the land and resources. Their decisions and actions will, to a large extent, determine whether poverty reduction supported through sustainable land management will become a reality. Enhancing their productive and economic roles, enabling them to increase their agricultural productivity and access to markets and thereby their incomes, and helping them to responsibly manage land and other natural resources are the keys to poverty reduction and sustainable rural development.
Women's access influences children's health
Another reality for many countries is the increasing feminisation of agriculture, resulting from out-migration of men from rural areas. Women are often responsible for producing, processing and storing food consumed in sub-Saharan Africa, and in South and South-east Asia. Yet, they are often especially disadvantaged because traditional inheritance practices and procedures for formalising land rights discriminate against them. For example, the many women who lack inheritance rights lose their access to land if they lose their husbands. Given that women in developing counties bear the brunt of responsibility for producing food for their families, the lack of access to land and other natural resources has direct consequences on the nutrition and health of their children.
Fighting social exclusion
Experience shows that securing access cannot be reduced to activities that provide individuals with title and tradable property rights. While this may work in some circumstances, enormous inequity in wealth and power relations can make poor rural people with tradable land title more vulnerable to losing their rights and to indebtedness. At IFAD, we have learned that the fight to secure access to land and other natural resources is a fight against social exclusion. We must empower poor rural people to maintain their rights against more powerful forces by increasing the capacity of their organisations and institutions to serve them and to foster meaningful and informed negotiations and decision-making processes. This includes participating in the development and implementation of rules and regulations governing access and tenure.
We have also learned that macroeconomic policies must be complemented by sound and well targeted pro-poor policies for both access and tenure security. Access to land and redistributive efforts are necessary, but not sufficient to improve the livelihoods and incomes of poor rural people, sustainably. Access to markets is also key. That's why we must carefully consider external factors such as trade and globalisation in our efforts to eradicate rural poverty.
There is growing awareness that the interests of poor rural people must be at the forefront of development and aid investment strategies. However, even in a more supportive global environment, success will depend greatly on local solutions to the challenges of poverty and the environment, with a strong emphasis on making the livelihood and income strategies of poor rural people the basis for sustainable resource management.
The International Land Coalition
Land tenure issues were at the heart of the 1995 Conference on Hunger and Poverty, which founded the International Land Coalition. Over the past decade, the Coalition, a global alliance of intergovernmental and civil-society organisations, has taken a prominent role in advocating at the global and country levels for land access and land use rights for poor rural people.
For instance, IFAD and the International Land Coalition are supporting the African Union, which in partnership with the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the African Development Bank is preparing land policy guidelines to assist governments to address land challenges from an African perspective and with the endorsement of African Heads of State.
Not only will improving land use and access help reduce rural poverty, it will also help reduce conflicts over resources, slow rural migration and urban growth, and increase aggregate food production.
IFAD's Strategic Framework for 2007-2010 gives priority to enhancing the access of poor rural people to land and other natural resources. Not only will improving land use and access help reduce rural poverty, it will also help reduce conflicts over resources, slow rural migration and urban growth, and increase aggregate food production.
IFAD has demonstrated that establishing cooperative, problem-solving partnerships and building political will are essential for successful rural investments.
At the end of 2006, there were 185 ongoing programmes and projects worth more than US$6 billion. Of these, IFAD provided just under US$3 billion and partners another US$3 billion. Many of these initiatives address land tenure and a wide range of natural resource management issues – land, water, forests, rangelands, fisheries and rural institutions. They also strengthen the capacity of farmers' and rural organisations to participate in policy discussions and influence policy decisions. As we go forward, we are intensifying our efforts to build the resilience and skills of those who are most at risk from changing climate patterns and severe climatic shocks, such as drought, floods and extreme temperatures.
The need for increased investments to provide poor rural people with the means and assets to earn better livelihoods, have more control over their lives, and become more self-reliant, is a centuries-old problem. But IFAD is only one voice. Our work is effective only because it fits into a wider context – a partnership with governments, civil society, farmers' organisations, the development community and the United Nations family.
As a financier and advocate for poor rural people, IFAD has demonstrated that establishing cooperative, problem-solving partnerships and building political will are essential for successful rural investments. The most important element is the enormous potential for progress and success. Ghana's Alimatou Mahama is a striking example. But there are 800 million more poor rural people who are keen to escape extreme poverty, if they can only receive the support they need.