In sub-Saharan Africa and India, many programmes for sustainable land management (SLM) are implemented where most land is governed under customary law. Many farmers, especially women, have insecure access to land. Farmers who fear losing their land have little incentive to invest in soil protection in the long run. Our review of 112 SLM programs and projects in five countries revealed that only six projects considered land tenure insecurity as an important barrier for farmers’ adoption of SLM practices. An overwhelming majority of SLM programs thus fail to address a basic premise for their sustainability: land tenure security.
Farmers can be stewards of soil protection. But they need secure land rights to play this role
A lack of tenure security influences farmers’ livelihoods in many ways. Our research shows that agricultural services in India are often tied to land ownership; farmers without secure titles to land are habitually excluded from the advisory, credit and crop insurance schemes. Similarly, in Ethiopia, land rehabilitation projects risk overlooking farmers on leased land. The short-term nature of these use arrangements worsens the problem of farming on leased land. Neglecting those groups of farmers can negatively influence the sustainability of soil protection measures. Cognizant to this challenge, TMG-Research initiated processes to address the challenges of tenure insecurity.
All countries we work in have gone through land reforms towards more progressive and inclusive policies. Yet, the policies are usually not translated into actions to effectively address the legitimate tenure rights of farmers. In Ethiopia, the federal land law encourages farmers to voluntarily exchange farmlands in order to enhance agricultural production. Yet, no program has significantly addressed the issue of land fragmentation, which affects over 13 million farming households.
To address this persistent gap in implementation, TMG initiated multi-stakeholder processes that developed locally grounded social innovations to secure land rights for vulnerable groups, especially women and landless farmers. Involving a range of stakeholders, especially policy and decision makers, in the design and implementation of these processes was instrumental to link local experiences with policy dialogue.
Social innovations based on carefully designed processes are instrumental in devising responsive implementation modalities that address tenure insecurity. TMG’s development of land lease guidelines (Kenya), securing women’s access to agricultural land (Burkina), and engaging farmers to address the challenges of farmland fragmentation through voluntary land consolidation (Ethiopia) are examples of these processes.
In Ethiopia farmland fragmentation is so severe that farmers operate up to 15 scattered plots. Of the 395 farmers in our household survey, over three quarters underscored the adverse effects of fragmentation on land management. To address this challenge, we facilitated a multi-stakeholder consultation process on voluntary land consolidation. Farmers who took part in the consultation process said land consolidation would allow them to apply soil fertility improvement practices such as compost and lime. Furthermore, it could allow farmers to employ labour saving mechanical technologies, better management of their farm using improved soil fertility management practices and would enable them to better manage irrigated areas.
The actual initiation and implementation of locally driven processes requires the presence of strong, locally trusted facilitators. For example, in Burkina Faso involving village leaders from the outset was crucial for buy-in among community members. Facilitation of the process by the experienced and trusted civil society organisation GRAF was instrumental for the successful initiation, implementation and follow-up of the process. In Ethiopia, the role played by the kebele land administration and certification committee showed how these committees served as entry points to the community. Similarly, they played a crucial role in representing and communicating the interests of their members to other actors, such as government policy makers, development partners and land rights advocates.
Clearly, tenure security responding to the specific needs of farmers is necessary if farmers are to be motivated to invest in soil protection for long-term benefits. Efforts to rehabilitate degraded farmlands and effectively tackle the persistent problem of household food insecurity very much depend on farmers’ access to secure land. Hence, addressing the problem of tenure insecurity through innovative and locally acceptable ways is crucial to fight poverty (SDG 1/1.4), end hunger (SDG 2), and to achieve gender equality (SDG 5/ 5.4).