Women play a central role in managing their household’s resources, producing food, and determining the overall nutritional well-being of their households, even though they have little control over how the land they farm is used.
Many development advocates and practitioners have recently begun placing a stronger emphasis on land rights as part of their campaign to end global hunger.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is advocating for more secure land rights as part of its campaign to meet the Millennium Development Goals, two of which include the eradication of poverty and hunger and the promotion of gender equality.
“This missing infrastructure is at the root of so many of today’s deep-seated challenges, because a key to reducing poverty and addressing a host of other problems, from gender inequality to conservation to food security, is providing women and men with the security they need to make long-term plans and invest year-toyear, rather than survive day-to-day,” says Tim Hanstad of Landesa, a global development non-profit that advocates for land rights for the poor, wrote.
He says that the amount of decision-making power that women have over how to dispose of the land and other natural resources is disproportionate to the amount of work and responsibility that are put upon them in the actual management of the land.
“Women account for nearly half of all smallholder farmers and make up a large proportion of all farmers,” he adds.
According to a Rutgers Center for Global Women’s Leadership study, women are also primarily responsible for raising food for the family by producing subsistence crops on more marginal lands.
A number of development studies and experts propose that establishing a set of land tenure policies to strengthen land rights, with a focus on women, is imperative to achieving food security.
A study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has found that households in which women have secure land rights often have higher rates of calorie availability and dietary diversity.
While technological advances have increased the overall amount of food produced worldwide, some experts have attributed continuing food insecurity to poorly enforced or non-existent land rights.
In present-day Ethiopia, where people are better fed than in previous decades, increased food security is being attributed not only to the use of modern agricultural techniques but to recent changes in law and policy that have strengthened citizens’ land rights.
Moreover, some studies about food security in African countries suggest that food security strategies need to include land rights reforms.
A study from the University of Toronto finds that land use policies that consider rural farming practices are necessary as a foundation for the ongoing food security projects in South Africa in order for the projects to have meaningful impact on hunger.
IFPRI study shows that women farmers in Ghana has also found that more secure land rights for women increases their incentives to invest in sustainable farming practices.
The study shows that cultivating better land use policies will lead to more stable food production in the future.
Various governments worldwide are considering taking steps to give women greater control over their property and land. Some states in India, have begun issuing land title deeds with both husbands’ and wives’ names, and in some cases, under the woman’s name alone.
Several African governments, including Uganda and Tanzania, have passed laws to give women more secure rights to land in the past decade,
and initiatives are currently underway to better enforce the laws and make them more accessible to women. In Kenya, recent amendments to the constitution have catalyzed reforms that promise to strengthen the rights of women farmers.
“The right to food does not require a set of policy recommendations to help end hunger. Rather it provides legal protections against developments that threaten peoples ability to produce food,” Says Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur in thanking African governments for including
land rights for women as part of the anti hunger agenda.
For farmers in developing countries, land assets and the control they have over them determine the subsistence of their households. USAID and other development practitioners believe that removing legal impediments that prevent farmers from having full autonomy over how to make the best use of their land is vital to their livelihoods and a sustainable food future.
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