Equitable access to land and secure land tenure rights: a pathway towards food security and sustainable food systems


Land is the foundation of every food system, providing water, food and natural resources that sustain all forms of life, and it is inextricably connected to people and their corresponding, societies, economies and cultures. A recent publication from the International Land Coalition (ILC), “Uneven Ground,” sheds new light on the scale and speed of the increasing land inequality that exists at a global level, resulting in growing disparities between smallholder farmers (family farms, indigenous peoples, rural women, youth and landless rural communities) and the corporate agribusiness sector. In this publication, Latin America ranks at the top of one of the most unequal regions in the world.

As the report reveals, “this trend threatens the livelihoods of an estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide involved in smallholder agriculture, as well as the world’s poorest 1.4 billion people, most of whom depend largely on agriculture for their livelihoods.” According to a recent research study titled “Which farms feed the world and has farmland become more concentrated?,” there are approximately 608 million farms in the world, more than 90% of which are family owned farms (as per the paper’s definition), and they occupy around 70%–80% of farmland producing roughly 80% of the world’s food in value terms.

The UN Food System Summit convened in September 2021, embodied the urgent need to transform our food systems towards the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda. As a result of the Summit and stemming from extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, a set of game-changing solutions were put forward towards the transformation of inclusive and sustainable food systems. During the event, it was highlighted the inextricable link between equitable access to land and secure land tenure rights as a key pillar in achieving equitable livelihoods and resilient food systems, which need to become more inclusive, transparent and environmentally sustainable.

In essence, the Food System Summit underpinned that food security and poverty reduction cannot be achieved unless issues of equitable access to land, security of tenure and the capacity and autonomy to use land are addressed. The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (VGGT) provide the framework to improve land governance and land administration systems.

Based on this call for action, The FAO Investment Center (CFI), the European Union, and the French Agricultural Research Center for International Development (CIRAD) have partnered with governments to undertake Food System Assessments (FSA) and facilitate inclusive stakeholder dialogues in more than 50 countries since 2020. The aim of the FSA is to identify innovative policy and investment entry points for sustainable and inclusive food systems transformation. The evidence and knowledge gathered, informed the high-level UN Food Systems Summit in view of guiding future action under the global food systems transformation agenda. It also highlights the urgent need to address unequal land distribution and lack of tenure security, which is hampering the emergence of resilient, equitable and sustainable livelihoods and food systems.