SANTA ANA, California- The importance of having established land rights throughout the world is hard to overestimate. It can mean the difference between life and death for farmers and can provide people with legal rights against those who would take advantage of them in times of hardship. In agriculture, collectivism and large-scale farms reduce the quality of life for struggling farmers.
Benefits of Land Ownership
Although there is no lack of arable land in most parts of the world, its ownership lies in the hands of too few, which most often means poverty for those who have to farm it. However, in El Salvador, there has been a recent 10 percent increase in land ownership, which has led directly to a per capita income boost of 4 percent. There are also examples of the growth of smaller scale farming in Ethiopia and India leading to greater food security and individual income.World Bank Group President Dr. Jim Yong Kim puts it eloquently: “Securing access to land is critical for millions of poor people. Modern, efficient, and transparent policies on land rights are vital to reducing poverty and promoting growth, agriculture production, better nutrition, and sustainable development.” Small farms produce more and employ more people per hectare than large farms, which benefits the poor. Family farm owners are also able to secure bank credit, which can be a tremendous asset.When farmers do not own their land, they have no reason to invest in it, since their position at the farm is not secured. Therefore, inexpensive crops that require as little time and effort as possible are chosen, which is not conducive to abundant food production. Conversely, with land ownership comes greater investment in the land and more food production, increasing food security and income.
What Happens Without Secure Land Rights?
After Typhoon Haiyan, government officials hoping to cash in on the crisis attempted a land grab on what had been a squatter’s camp for poor Filipinos. Stories like this abound. It makes sense then that when a cyclone struck the state of Orissa in 1999, one-third of those who died were villagers who refused to leave because they thought it was a ruse to get them off the government land upon which their huts were built.
It is as important to prevent further land consolidation by the wealthy few as it is to assure secure land rights for the many. This can be difficult, as governments and landowners can be tempted by the easy tradeoff of their unused or underutilized land for substantial payoffs.In India, for example, tribal communities have been pushed off their land by developers and investors who see profit as more important than people. However, a recent decision to reject a London miner who sought to mine bauxite on the tribal lands of the Dongria shows that through the support of local institutions and organizations that give a voice to the vulnerable, large-scale detrimental developments can be suppressed.
India’s Supreme Court even came to the conclusion that communities that will be affected by a development must be consulted before development is allowed to begin.
As the Dongria leader, Lodu Sikaka, puts it: “We’ll lose our self-esteem if they take away our hills and forests. Other Adivasis [India’s tribal peoples] who have lost their homes are dying of desperation; they are being destroyed.”Thankfully, almost miraculously, the Dongria avoided that danger. It was only done through broad campaigning on behalf of Dongria, as well as the negative reputation the mining company had gained through deleterious dealings in the recent past. Hopefully, rather than stories of damaging acquisition, people will hear more stories of wide-spread support on behalf of the vulnerable.
– Jordan Schunk
Sources: Christian Science Monitor, The Guardian, IFAD, The New York Times, Oxfam, War On Want, The World Bank
Photo: Global Issues