Governance of Tenure

Examining the impact of COVID-19 on tenure rights


A recent FAO analysis projects that millions are likely to join the ranks of the hungry as a result of the COVID-19 triggered economic recession.  A 5% global economic downturn increases the number of extreme poor by almost 150 million (FPRI, 2020). The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is finding that the food supply chains are being affected by trade disruptions, border closures, quarantines, especially in countries that already face food shortages.  There is also a projected 20% decline in remittances worth an estimated USD 110 billion, usually going to less developed countries in the Global South. 

These grim scenarios point to the severity of the pandemic and the new vulnerabilities faced by rural communities and households. For the latter, security of food and nutrition is inextricably linked to security of tenure. Observed in a rural landscape, one can identify different categories at risk: in lowland farming areas the (near) landless may be affected, whereas in upland forest dominated areas communities with customary tenure systems may be affected. The proximity or distance of these rural communities to markets is another factor, as is the proximity to borders that because of the pandemic have been closed. The COVID-19 pandemic has also increased inequalities and has hit those vulnerable the most (e.g., indigenous peoples, low castes and other marginalized groups; the elderly, women, youth and children; migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons; and the poorest of the poor, particularly those who depend on casual day labour, seasonal migration or mobile livelihoods, who have insufficient access to productive assets (including land and other natural resources), adequate housing, economic opportunities, savings, insurance or alternative sources of income)(FAO, 2020).

The FAO Land Tenure Unit is undertaking a number of studies with partners to examine different impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on tenure rights of rural communities.

In Nepal, Mokoro, an NGO that supports international development, has been working with FAO on land and customary land tenure issues addressing COVID-19 because it is affecting the landless, poor households, and women far more than other social groups. Many thousands of younger, male Nepalis working abroad returned to the rural areas putting further pressure on limited food stocks while the remittance-based income is lost. The rural economy, in particular markets and value chains, has been negatively impacted. In addition, Mokoro found, among others, that the government has removed the prohibition imposed 12 years ago on dividing land in ever smaller plots. This response aims to ensure that returnees have access to at least some land and address the needs of urban households moving back to home areas. However, this measure will add to the already existing land fragmentation and possibly exacerbate inequality of access to land. The progress on land registration and certification has been impacted, especially during the initial lockdown. Goals related to dual registration, i.e. registration in the name of husband and wife, have experienced delays. Actions against informal land occupation by landless households, when media coverage and reporting was all but impossible, have been reported by the International Land Coalition.

A financial contribution toward the study was made by the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Department for International Development).

In China, a study is being conducted by the University of International Business and Economics in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences on how Chinese investments by state-owned companies in Mozambique and Tanzania are being affected. A questionnaire has been sent out through the Chinese Foreign Economic Cooperation Center of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. Concurrently, the Tanzania Land Alliance is examining the impact at community level of those located near Chinese investment sites in both Tanzania and Mozambique. The two studies will provide different perspectives and complementary results.

A financial contribution toward the study was made by the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Department for International Development).

In Myanmar, a study by independent researchers is underway in Shan State to examine how macro trends impact smallholder farmer households' economic and social conditions at the micro level. The study fills a knowledge gap that can help policymakers design more effective interventions to support smallholder farmers. Shan State was selected because it occupies a quarter of the entire country and borders Southern China. In this fertile region many communities are managing their land through customary tenure systems with their products previously being exported to China through the border that is now closed. Farmers are now forced to sell their produce through the Thai border at a greater distance and at lower prices. Taking input loans from traders means having to repay in produce at lower prices. This may cause indebtedness with the potential risk of loss of farmers' land. A household survey will be conducted to gather data in a number of communities. First results of the study are expected in December 2020.

Financial contributions toward the study were made by the Governments of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Department for International Development) and Switzerland (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation).

In South Africa, the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), being co-chair of the National Multi-Stakeholder Platform and coordinating the Land Network National Engagement Strategy for South Africa (LandNNES), assessed with civil society organizations how they can contribute to ensuring food and nutrition security to the vulnerable during the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis. The Department for Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, being co-chair of the National Multi-Stakeholder Platform, provided strong support to two online National Policy Dialogues organized by AFRA that were held on 19 June and 22 August 2020. Two sets of videos are available from excerpts from these discussions here and here.

A financial contribution toward the study was made by the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Department for International Development).