2.1 In response to concerns for food security and poverty alleviation, development agencies and organizations are introducing strategies that help to build assets and promote the self-reliance of poor people and communities. Interventions include helping poor people protect and enhance their natural resource base, improving access to agricultural land through resettlement schemes, and ensuring food security of the vulnerable, including women, minorities and indigenous groups.
2.2 In many cases, responses to concerns of environmental sustainability, social conflicts, and food security of the vulnerable are affected by land tenure and have an impact on land tenure. Failure to consider land tenure implications at the beginning of an intervention is likely to result in unanticipated outcomes and may lead to it not generating an improvement. In some cases it may even worsen the situation, for example by inadvertently dispossessing people of their rights to land. Situations of this kind have arisen, for example, when projects have resettled displaced people on land that was incorrectly identified as vacant.
2.3 Eradicating hunger requires increasing the access to food of a person or family. The extent to which individuals and families are able to be food-secure depends in large part on the opportunities they have to increase their access to assets such as land, as well as access to markets and other economic opportunities. People who have extensive rights to land are generally more able to enjoy a sustainable livelihood than those who have only limited rights to land; those who have limited rights are, in turn, often better off than those who are landless.
2.4 Land tenure is important in rural development interventions which place an emphasis on building peoples endowments of assets so they can enjoy sustainable livelihoods. A livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with, and recover from stresses and shocks, and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets both now and in the future, while not undermining the natural resource base. In this context, a livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (including both material and social resources) and activities required for a means of living. Property rights to land, together with labour, form the most common endowments used to produce food for home consumption as well as cash crops that allow the family or individual to pay for other needs such as health and education. Property rights to land are thus one of the most powerful resources available to people to increase and extend their collection of assets beyond land and labour to the full portfolio necessary for sustainable livelihoods, i.e., natural resources, social, human, and financial capital as well as physical assets (Figure 1.)
FIGURE 1: Sustainable livelihood
2.5 Land tenure is also important in rural development interventions that use a rights-based approach to programming. Such programming should ensure that causes which prevent people from enjoying their rights are eliminated or reduced. For example, the UN Commission on the Status of Women noted in 1998 that land rights discrimination against women is a violation of human rights. A rights-based perspective should undertake to ensure that the support programme does not reinforce discrimination against women, minorities and other vulnerable groups, but instead helps to overcome it. When dealing with aid and development in rural areas, a rights-based approach to programming should address the rights to land that the beneficiary groups in the project or programme have. It necessitates identifying what rights are recognized within the project area, how these rights are organised, and whether adequate institutional arrangements exist to determine who has rights to land, for how long, for what purposes, and under what conditions.
2.6 Land rights are often a vital element when rural households balance their capabilities and assets, and determine their resulting strategies to cope with their daily production and food security. However, rights to land are not just a source of economic production, but are also a basis of social relationships and cultural values, and a source of prestige and often power. The resulting social networks that are built up within a specific social and cultural group are a very important asset in ensuring sustainability of livelihoods of rural households.
2.7 The more general lessons learned from recent research on land tenure include:
The countries that have invested in the technical and institutional infrastructure required for efficient and equitable land tenure administration, and that have been in the forefront of ensuring property rights for both men and women, have developed much faster with a much higher level of food security, health and welfare. Such development has been much more sustainable where policy-makers, while recognizing the need to reform land tenure arrangements, have supported the protection of long-established rights of women and other disadvantaged groups to the resources they had held traditionally.
Agricultural food production will continue to be a sector dominated by family and household units. Frequently, one of the reasons for misplaced land tenure policies is the failure to understand the complex nature of the kinds of social relations that characterize the household in any rural society. Policy interventions in land tenure can generate both positive and negative results. Policy based on accurate information and an appreciation of changing, dynamic contexts is much more likely to lead to the intended results.
Denying large segments of rural society more equitable access to land and to the benefits of secure land tenure imposes unanticipated costs. This can be a major contributing factor to extreme poverty, dependence, social instability including conflicts and civil unrest, rural migration, land abandonment, and many other negative conditions. On the other hand, more equitable access to land and other assets can play a role in stimulating faster and broader-based economic growth.