Secure rights to land, particularly for women, are a critical but often overlooked factor in achieving household food and nutrition security. Data analyzed by the OECD Development Centre show that countries where women lack rights or opportunities to own land have on average 60% more malnourished children than countries where women have some or equal access to land.
Secure land rights can lead to increased household agricultural productivity and production by 1) providing the ability and incentive to invest in improvements to the land; 2) increasing opportunities to access financial services and government programs; and 3) creating the space needed – one without constant risk of losing land – for more optimal land use. This enhances household food and nutrition security through two avenues: increased food production for consumption and increased incomes permitting the purchase of more and better quality food. In both ways, secure land rights can help moderate the impact of food price volatility on poor rural households. Indeed, the Zero Hunger Challenge already recognizes the need to improve tenure security and empower women to achieve its objective of a 100% increase in smallholder productivity and income.
The link between secure rights to land and household food and nutrition security is more pronounced when women have secure land and property rights. With secure rights, women gain improved status and have greater influence over household decisions. Studies show that this can translate into improved nutrition for women and their children. In Nepal, research (Allendorf 2007) demonstrates that the likelihood that a child is severely underweight is reduced by half if the child’s mother owns land.
Secure rights to “microplots” of land, plots as small as one-tenth of an acre, can protect against household food insecurity and improve nutrition. A study (Prosterman 2009) in the Indian state of Kerala revealed that the value of microplot production was the most “consistent positive predictor of child nutrition.” Landesa has seen this in our own work (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ie8jBEWdNLQ). Land tenure security, particularly for women, can thus also help achieve the Zero Hunger Challenge objective of zero stunted children less than 2 years old.
Improved land governance and political commitment to policies and programs that support land tenure security are critical. This is particularly true with respect to women’s land rights, which can be disadvantaged by formal legal or customary laws, or are not enforced due to structural, cultural, or other factors. As the world weighs options for improving food security, we must include one of the most promising elements for addressing the needs of the world’s hungry: secure land rights.
This thematic discussion was led by FAO and WFP in collaboration with “The World We Want”.
The consultation was facilitated by the Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)