Closing the gender gap in land ownership is essential to achieving gender equality as well as addressing global hunger and food security challenges. In its recent report, “Levelling the Playing Field: Improving Opportunities for Women Farmers in Africa,” the World Bank highlighted access to and control of land as one of the primary reasons for the gender gap in agricultural productivity in sub-Saharan Africa.
As this report and other research points out, when farmers have secure land tenure, they are more likely to make investments to increase its productivity. Farmers access land through various ways around the world, but female farmers are generally less likely than male farmers to have ownership or control over it. This inequality threatens their ability to provide for themselves and their families. In fact, increasing women’s productivity could have profound impacts on global food security. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that if women had the same access to resources — including land — as men, they could increase their yields by 20–30 percent, leading to 100–150 million fewer hungry people.
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Achieving gender equality in land rights is about more than policy reform. Implementers of agricultural development programs have a role to play too. Because agricultural development programs often work at the grassroots level and reach hundreds of communities and thousands of households, they can use these networks to raise awareness about land rights and facilitate adoption and implementation at the grassroots. Here are four ways implementers can integrate activities to promote land rights into their programs:
1. Use the scale of farmer outreach events to raise awareness about their land rights
Taking action to raise awareness about land rights does not have to be separate, stand-alone activities. Projects can use farmers’ fairs and other community events to disseminate information and connect farmers to organizations that can help them seek legal action if their rights have been violated. The Sunhara India program, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, organized plays on land rights during International Women’s Day celebrations and a puppet show during a farmers’ fair. It also invited the Aaroh campaign, led by Oxfam International to help women farmers gain access to land, to host an information stall at the fair.
The Production, Finance and Improved Technology Plus, or PROFIT+, project is a core activity of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Feed the Future global hunger and food security initiative in Zambia. The project works with community workers from the District Women Development Association to train smallholder farmers on gender equity in land rights and the procedures of acquiring and registering land. Preliminary assessments show that most women in communities that received this training now know their land rights and are demanding them.
Chibwe, a village head in Eastern Province’s Lundazi district, described how village leadership is supporting this process: “Widows that lose the fields that they used to cultivate with their dead husbands are now suing in traditional and local courts to claim their land rights. Our Council of Elders is ensuring that widows continue to use the land to grow food for their families.”
2. Partner with community leaders to promote land rights
As part of the process of doing an agricultural program in a new community, development workers regularly engage with community leaders and members. This is an opportunity to raise awareness about land rights. For example, our USAID-funded Staples Value Chain Project works in 143 villages in Tanzania. Elizabeth Temu, the project’s gender specialist, said that when her team starts to work in a new village, it holds sensitization meetings where village government and members of the public — men, women and youth — are present.
“We emphasize the need for equal access to agricultural inputs, including land,” Temu said of these meetings. “We remind the government leaders about the Village Land Act that states equal rights to access and ownership of land — irrespective of marital status. Hence we create awareness about land rights and the importance of women’s access and ownership of land.”
The PROFIT+ project in Zambia also partners with grassroots institutions — both civil society and traditional chiefdoms — to raise awareness and promote gender equality in land allocation. For example, it is leveraging councils of elders, which are responsible for allocating land, to advocate for gender equality in land allocation. Women with land rights will be more productive and innovative farmers.
3. Mobilize farmers’ groups and cooperatives as advocates for raising awareness about land rights and promoting policy change, especially regarding local policies and customary laws
Many public and private sector agricultural development initiatives work through farmers’ groups and cooperatives to achieve gains in food security. While these groups are often organized around the objective of accessing agricultural resources like inputs, information on production techniques, and markets for buying their production, they can have an advocacy function as well.
A paper on "Collective Action and Women's Agency" published by the World Bank found that female members of a coffee cooperative in Uganda were able to collectively advocate for their land rights and were more likely to achieve joint landholding with their spouses. Implementers need to further explore how farmers’ cooperatives can mobilize to advocate for their rights and policy reforms, including those related to land rights.
4. Address “double discrimination” in land rights on account of gender and minority status
Gender inequality with regards to land rights is a complex issue. It is more complex when considering other forms of discrimination based on ethnicity, indigenous status, religion or sexual orientation. Women who are part of a minority demographic often face double discrimination on account of their gender and minority status. Strategies for promoting land rights for women and ethnic or other minorities must take this into account.
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These activities can raise awareness about land rights and leverage the power of local leadership to implement those rights at the grassroots level. They can be easily integrated into agricultural development programs and are necessary for closing both the productivity gaps and gender gaps that are persistent in rural markets around the world and are contributing to global food insecurity.
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