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1.1 This guide reflects the increasing recognition that access to land is frequently critical if vulnerable households are to enjoy sustainable rural livelihoods. Secure access to land, whether through formal, informal, customary or other means, is necessary for rural households to enjoy sustainable livelihoods, and is an important part of sustainable development. As this guide illustrates, what constitutes secure access is relative and the attributes of security will change from context to context. Land tenure problems are often an important contributor to food insecurity, to restricted livelihood opportunities, and therefore to poverty. Secure access to land should thus be considered when designing solutions to specific rural development or food insecurity situations. This requires recognizing and tackling land tenure related problems even in the earliest stages of a rural development project.

1.2 For this guide, discussion of land tenure is not restricted to access to land alone, but also includes access to other natural resources, such as water and trees, which may be essential for people’s livelihoods. For convenience, “access to land” is used here to include access to other natural resources as well.

1.3 The purpose of this guide is to provide support to those who are assessing and designing appropriate responses to food insecurity and rural development situations. It recognises that this audience is drawn from a diversity of academic and professional backgrounds, but that few have had training in land tenure issues, either formally or informally. Although the guide is directed primarily at designers of rural development projects, its contents should also be relevant to those working in broader development programmes.

1.4 This guide aims to show where and why land tenure is an important issue in food security and sustainable rural livelihoods. It defines land tenure and how it is administered in different situations. Analysis of how land tenure works in practice - as evidenced by the practical issue of who has what type of access to land, and when - is essential and defines the key issues both of access and of the security of that access. Additionally it reveals the various stakeholders who have an interest in land: those who control it and how they exercise that control; those who use it; and those, often women, indigenous peoples and other disadvantaged groups, who may be landless or may have insecure claims to land.

1.5 The guide analyzes important contexts where land tenure is currently of critical concern. These include situations where unsustainable increases in pressure on, or insecure tenure over, land resources give rise to environmental degradation, and where gender-discrimination in access to land disadvantages individuals, households and communities. In other situations, conflicts may have been provoked by disputed access, or may make problems of access difficult to address. These conflicts, with their associated disruptions, migration and displacement, provide great challenges from a land tenure perspective.

1.6 The information presented in the guide is intended to be relevant to those working in rural development projects throughout the world. While the guide has been prepared to familiarise readers with the context and key issues in land tenure, it should be noted that tenure issues vary considerably from one country to another, and even within a country. Moreover, tenure issues are far more complex and context dependent than described here, both in terms of the specific forms of tenure and of the inter-relationships over time, space and resources that may exist between different rights. The guide thus does not attempt to provide the reader with a detailed knowledge of land tenure, but instead provides a methodology in chapter 5 that can be used to identify people who can bring specialist land tenure knowledge into rural development projects or programmes.

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