Secure Land Rights Key in Sustainable Land Management

During the last week of May, scientists, researchers, development partners and government officials from various African countries gathered at World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Gigiri for the Global Soil Week. The conference organized by TMG Research- a German applied research organization under the theme of ‘Creating an Enabling Environment for Sustainable and Climate-Resilient Agriculture in Africa, analyzed successful cases in the continent and how they could be upscaled. Of particular interest was the conditions under which the projects were successful. One key challenge in the journey to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is that governments have not learnt how to translate them to local targets. The conference supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) classified the projects under four thematic areas of Land Governance, Local Governance and Cooperation Models, Extension Services and Finance and Markets.

Among the key successful projects was how the Tiarako community in Burkina Faso secured land access rights to women through intra-household negotiations. The process is based on social legitimation where land tenure agreements and arrangements between women and heads of farming households are validated by local actors including customary and administrative authorities. With secure land rights, women are able to adopt sustainable land management, grow food crops as opposed to men who go for cash crops and empower them to make decisions such as when to plant. It’s also in the spirit of SDGs of leaving no one behind. The persistent gender gap in agriculture can only be tackled through structural changes by 2030. These shifts that seek to strengthen women’s interests and voice are unlikely to succeed unless men consider themselves partners and beneficiaries.

Closely related to this was the development of community land leasing guidelines in Shinyalu Sub-County in Kakamega, Kenya. As part of the special initiative One World No Hunger, TMG Research investigated barriers to adoption of Sustainable Land Management practices by farmers. With numerous conflicts from land leasing arrangements that prevented farmers from adopting SLM practices, TMG Research collaborated with a local women grassroots organization to develop community land leasing guidelines that encourage land lessees to adopt sustainable land management practices.

Land tenure insecurity is a major obstacle for smallholder farmers wishing to invest in soil protection and rehabilitation. Securing land access rights for those most affected by it- especially women, youth and migrants is crucial. These groups see their sustainable land management initiatives restricted by insecure tenure arrangements. They are not allowed to plant trees or build permanent structures as these would result in claiming ownership of the leased plot. Therefore, policies for land degradation neutrality (LDN) must integrate or link policies on securing access to land.

Further, policies and programmes seeking secure land access rights for women and other marginalized groups must be further tailored to local realities. While land-lease agreements may be suitable for landless farmers, intra-house tenure agreements could provide more equitable land allocation within land-owning families.

Effective extension services are also crucial in promoting SLM technologies. There is need to revise the work packages of extension agents in order to integrate trainings on facilitation and empowering farmer representatives to lead technology adoption and diffusion.

Over 750 million hectares of land in Africa are affected by soil degradation due to urbanization and agriculture. This affects 180 million people most of whom are smallholder farmers who account for 80% of food produced. The UN has set June 17th every year as the World Day to combat desertification. Sustainable Land Management especially protecting and restoring already degraded soils is critical in achieving SDGs and this can happen by addressing the obstacles such as insecure land rights.

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