#ifadland – Secure land and natural resource rights are essential to reducing poverty across Africa

By Geoffrey Livingston

Yesterday in Nairobi, Kenya, IFAD Regional Economist for East and Southern Africa Geoffrey Livingston opened a joint IFAD-UN Habitat workshop on land and natural resources security with remarks on the challenges and opportunities at hand. Excerpts follow.

Smallholder farmers in the Haute Matsiatra region of
Madagascar. ©Rindra Ramasomanana
Secure land and natural resources rights are essential for rural poverty reduction, agricultural development and economic growth more generally.

In sub-Saharan Africa, about 470 million people are located in rural areas, agriculture employs 65 per cent of the labour force and the sector drives 32 per cent of GDP growth. Land and the associated natural resources are among the main assets that poor rural women and men have in Africa, along with their labour and creativity.

But land is not just an economic asset. It also has great cultural and social significance. For many Africans, land is owned on behalf of their ancestors and future generations. In general, poor people and marginalised groups have less access to land and weaker land rights – and, typically, women do not enjoy the same land rights as men.

Growing recognition
IFAD has learnt that the lack of secure land and natural resource rights is often a major obstacle to economic development and poverty reduction; is often a major cause of social instability; and often undermines good land use and land management.

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition in Africa of the importance of land and natural resource tenure security. There is also a greater recognition of the need for active citizen participation in the formulation and implementation of land and natural resource management policies. There is an opportunity to learn from an increasing number of experiences – both positive and negative.

The African Union Commission, UN Economic Commission for Africa and African Development Bank-led process of developing the African Land Policy Framework and Guidelines is exemplary. It provides us with an excellent opportunity for raising the profile of the importance of land and natural resource tenure security for long-term sustainable development – not only in Africa but throughout the world.

Collaboration with partners
But the real challenge now is in developing and implementing practical approaches for securing land and natural resource rights and, linked to this, building community and decentralised capacity to implement these approaches.

Often without realising it, IFAD-supported initiatives in the region have a wealth of experience in supporting local institutions to manage land and natural resources – and through this, to secure the rights of poor rural men and women. Typically, IFAD-supported projects and programmes are implemented by ministries responsible for agricultural development and natural resource management. And often, the lessons learnt on securing land and natural resource rights in these projects and programmes do not feed directly into land policy development.

In this regard, our collaboration with UN Habitat and other partners, under the auspices of the Global Land Tools Network, provides us with an excellent opportunity for strengthening the engagement of various IFAD-supported initiatives in sharing their experiences.

IFAD is very pleased to support this initiative. We recognise land and natural resource tenure security are key for poverty reduction and economic growth, and we welcome the opportunity to learn from others on how to better integrate measures that can strengthen tenure security into initiatives that we support.