Landesa’s Fight for Land Rights Around The World


SEATTLE — Land rights are vital to individuals living in the developing world, where land and natural resources determine their livelihood. Landesa Rural Development Institute realized the importance of land and developed an institution that empowers millions of men and women by granting them land rights. In developing the institution, Landesa realized that many of the world’s poor have three common traits:

  1. They live in rural areas.
  2. They rely on agriculture to survive.
  3. They do not have legal control over the land they depend on.

Landesa helped many escape this poverty trap by granting individuals in impoverished countries their land rights. These land rights reduce both poverty and conflict, as well as increase economic activity, empower women, strengthen food security and improve environmental stewardship.

Landesa first began in 1967 when a professor at the University of Washington, Roy Prosterman, responded to a law review article with his own treatise, “Land Reform in Latin America: How to Have a Revolution without a Revolution.” His article promoted market-friendly land reform and included full compensation for land acquisitions. This action is a very helpful tool for helping impoverished individuals climb out of poverty and creating peaceful and equitable societies.

Prosterman’s article so intrigued the U.S. government that it invited him to test his theory in the middle of the Vietnam War. From 1970 to 1973, Prosterman granted land rights to one million tenant farmers. Rice production increased by 30 percent, and Viet Cong recruitment decreased by 80 percent, according to Landesa.

A plethora of opportunities in other countries soon followed. Prosterman, with the help of some researchers and law students, began to travel the world working with governments to create pro-poor land laws.

In 198, Prosterman’s efforts evolved into the world’s first non-governmental organization designed to partner with governments to extend land rights to the world’s poor. Then called the Rural Development Institute, Landesa has spread tremendously since its beginning. From the rice fields of Vietnam to over 50 countries, Landesa’s reach is larger than ever.

In nearly 50 years, working in more than 50 countries, Landesa has helped strengthen land rights for more than 110 million families. Landesa has benefitted about 85.1 million families in China, 17.8 million families in Russia, 1.1 million families in India, about 1.5 million in Rwanda as well as thousands of families in other countries such as Kenya, Ukraine, El Salvador and more.

Landesa partners with the state, national governments and organizations to help poor, rural men and women achieve secure rights to land and the opportunity to construct a better future for both their families and themselves.

Through this organization’s hard work, millions of individuals are better off. Landesa was awarded for its work in 2015 when it received the Hilton Humanitarian Prize: the largest humanitarian prize in the world awarded to organizations who make astonishing contributions to the battle of alleviating human suffering.

Landesa has partnered with a multitude of governments, communities and other stakeholders in over 50 countries. They have advanced pro-poor, gender-sensitive land rights reforms using law and policy tools. The reforms Landesa has made has helped alleviate poverty, reduce hunger and ease conflict over land for more than 150 million struggling men and women caught in poverty.

Landesa boosted agricultural productivity in the developing world by billions of dollars annually and also improved health, nutrition and school enrollment in hundreds of villages across the globe. A life changing organization for millions begun by one professor’s treatise, Landesa shows just how much of a difference one individual can make when they act on their passion.

Bella Chaffey

Photo: Flickr


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