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Three reasons to invest in land tenure security

21 October 2020

For rural people, especially low-income rural people, land and livelihood are one and the same. Access to land means the opportunity to earn a decent income and achieve food and nutrition security, and it can also pave the way for access to social benefits such as health care and education. A lack of secure land access, on the other hand, can disempower rural people and expose them to the combined threats of poverty, hunger and conflict.

For these reasons, land tenure security – the uncontested right of access to land and all its associated resources – is now widely acknowledged as central to the efforts to improve rural livelihoods. It is also a critical success factor for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals: namely, it is central to delivering on SDG 1 and SDG 2, and is a key factor in at least 10 other goals as well.

In its projects, IFAD promotes a holistic approach to land tenure, in which tenure security for poor rural women and men encompasses not only land but also secure access to water, forests, fish, and other natural resources. It also encompasses individual, familial, group and collective community rights of tenure. As we describe in our recent Land Tenure Security Advantage report, this allows IFAD to align tenure security within its overall mainstreaming agenda and to count it among its strategic priorities for achieving inclusive and sustainable rural transformation.

Here are three key reasons why investing in land tenure can make a difference in rural development efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger.

1. Land tenure is a catalyst for multiple benefits in poverty eradication, food security and nutrition.

Land tenure security contributes to rural people’s willingness and ability to invest in agriculture and sustainable land management – and to benefit from its proceeds. It contributes to all four dimensions of food security (availability, access, use and stability) and also to better nutrition, including through increasing incomes.

This is especially important in the context of empowering women in making investment decisions. Rural women tend to focus more on growing food for the family, thereby contributing more to food security and nutrition, and to invest more cash income into their children’s education. Combined, these two factors are central to eradicating poverty.

In Bolivia, for example, efforts by the ACCESOS programme to delimit and title land were able to address poverty and malnutrition as well. The programme made use of “talking maps,” a visual and inclusive form of natural resource mapping that brings together scientific and traditional community knowledge, to identify the issues that were most relevant and high-priority for project participants. This enabled the programme to include community-driven priorities, such as nutrition and social inclusion, in local planning. In total, over 1.3 million hectares of family and community land were delimitated and titled, guaranteeing secure land rights for 157 indigenous communities comprising more than 15,500 people.  

2. Investing in land tenure security contributes to social inclusion in rural communities.  

Tenure security is key to empowering marginalized groups, including women, youth, indigenous peoples and pastoralists. Women, for example, have historically lacked formal acknowledgment of their land rights (and of the social and economic benefits that such rights confer), and they therefore benefit greatly from efforts to help them understand their rights and to officially title lands in their name.

Indigenous peoples and pastoralists also benefit enormously from obtaining official consent for their use of land and other natural resources. Formally guaranteeing their right of access is a crucial tool for reducing the conflicts these groups often face. To this end, efforts to map the land, water, forests and other resources they depend on are a key step in this process.

Two IFAD-supported projects, each winners of the Gender Award, have each made considerable progress in establishing rural women’s land tenure. In its work with land registration for women-headed households, Bangladesh’s Char Development and Settlement Project introduced the innovation of listing the woman’s name first on the certification documents, ensuring that the land would remain her property in the event of divorce. Meanwhile, strategies such as presenting land certificates in public ceremonies help empower women within their communities and maintain high levels of transparency. Efforts such as these have slowly been improving women’s status and transforming gender norms in the area.

A similar approach also proved successful for an IFAD-supported project in Ethiopia, where the issuance of land certificates in women’s names both increased women’s incomes and strengthened their status as decision-makers within the household and the greater community.

3. Land tenure security is critical for climate change adaptation and the resilience of rural people.

Securing rural people’s rights of land access is a critical factor in their ability to respond to the changing climate. People with secure tenure are more motivated to invest in farming practices that help mitigate climate change. For example, strengthening tenure security can improve rural communities’ willingness to set up climate-smart water management systems. Systems like these both increase their agricultural productivity and income and ensure that they are more resilient to unpredictable and adverse weather patterns, including drought. Building social inclusion and cohesion around land tenure is also key to rural people’s resilience, as it reduces conflicts and contributes to farmers’ sustainable management of natural resources.

In Mali, for example, investments in irrigation and soil and water management made by the IFAD-supported Fostering Agricultural Productivity Project helped rural people access water, thereby improving their productivity. The project also helped communities create their own climate change adaptation plans. Ultimately, the Government of Mali decided to operationalize its National Investment Plan in Agriculture through these community-led plans, reinforcing their importance as a strategy for ensuring equitable access to natural resources.

Sudan’s Butana region is marked by water scarcity as well. Here, the IFAD-supported Butana Integrated Rural Development Project established a governance framework that ensures the pastoralist households who travel across the region’s sand dunes and clay plains can enjoy regulated access to land and water resources. Mapping processes were also strengthened, building on the land and natural resource management plans developed at the village level. Meanwhile, a land policy adviser held inter-village workshops that helped raise these communities’ awareness of their legal rights and how to exercise them.

IFAD’s land tenure security advantage

Large rural development projects often rely on the confluence of different types of interventions, including policy engagement, investments in infrastructure and enhanced access to financial services. Efforts to establish or improve land tenure security can complement and build on these activities, helping advance gains in SDGs 1 and 2 (among others), as well as in IFAD’s mainstreaming priority areas – thus significantly contributing to the Fund’s objectives of eradicating poverty and supporting sustainable rural transformation.

 

For more on the benefits of land tenure, see our recently published Land Tenure Security Advantage report.