GFAR blog

The black sheep of agricultural development: land tenure

land tenure

At the High Level Policy Dialogue leading up to GCARD3 (The Third Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development), issues ranging from investment strategies to open access data, to climate smart solutions are hot topics of discussion. But what is missing?

There can be no investment, no data use, no climate innovation for the smallholder farmer if there is no land for the smallholder farmer. No amount of research into crop diversification will aid a displaced farmer looking  for work in the city.  No amount of targeted data will inform agriculture decisions that an ex-farmer no longer makes. No climate smart crop strain can be planted in soil that is no longer sown.

Is land tenure important to agricultural development? “Secure and equitable access to land is central to achieving food security, eradicating hunger and reducing poverty. It is also crucial to promoting sustainable livelihood and healthy ecosystems.” (Journal of the Asian NGO Coalition Volume 18/2 2012)

So why isn’t land tenure discussed? There are at least four possible reasons…

Land rights are a highly politicized discussion topic. Land grabs are done by corporations, foundations, schools, tourism companies, and even religious organizations. These land concessions are sponsored by the very governments which organizations need to work with. And the main perpetrators of intimidation and violence in land disputes are private security forces, military, and the police.

Global investment, leading to greater economic growth, very often requires land. Whether for mining, plantations, industrial and economic zones, or development projects, land concessions are given in return for investment dollars. It is claimed these same investment dollars work towards development goals.

Regulatory environment
Many countries don’t have strong regulations to ensure land rights tenure. Where there is often a minimal legal framework in place to protect land rights, regulations to protect that framework are lacking. This is further aggravated by the complexities present in an informal rural environment where farmers do not have physical land titles and are often under-educated and ignorant of their rights.

Land tenure rights is a complex research topic. The level of tenure security of a country is in itself difficult to calculate, but the effects of tenure security on food productivity and on poverty reduction are even more difficult to determine. Smallholder agriculture is seen to improve food security, provide livelihoods for the poor, and foster greater biodiversity. However, the quantitative measures for these benefits are not readily available.

These are a few possible reasons why land tenure is not discussed – not in any GCARD3 presentation, not by any CGIAR project, not by the vast majority of NGOs working in this region.

It is astonishing to think that you can spend so much time, money, and energy in discussing farmers and what they need, without discussing what is of most central importance to them: their land.

During the Dialogue, Dr. Richard Hames of the Asian Foresight Institute and the Centre for the Future discussed future pathways in agricultural development. He asked if the current research is helping the situation it claims to help or if it is instead only helping to maintain the status quo? Are we really addressing the key problems?

When hard issues like land tenure are not discussed, this question is especially poignant. What will be the cost of not addressing this issue?

It makes me think: what else are we not discussing?


Blogpost by Natalie Orentlicher, #GCARD3 Social Reporter norentlicher(at)
Picture courtesy World Family

This post is part of the live coverage during the #GCARD3 Regional Consultation for Asia and Pacific region. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.

Sources: ANGOC: Asian NGO Coalition; Land Watch Asia; Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development; Food and Agricultural Organization; Committee on World Food Security (Specifically the VGGT: Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Forests and Fisheries in the context of Food Security; Land Issues Working Group and the International Land Coalition.

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