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About Land Rights

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What are land rights?

Land rights refer to a person’s legal ownership of a specific piece of land.

Why are land rights important?

With a piece of land, a person can build a place to live in and grow food that they can eat or sell for an income. This extra income can ease the burden on a family, which can more easily send their children to school and find access to medical care. As a result, land is extremely important to people. But it’s not just having the land that is important: having secure rights to land is also crucial.

When you own something, you are more likely to take care of it because it’s yours. The same applies to rural farmers around the world. When these farmers can’t be sure that the land they work on is really theirs, and that it, as well as the crops it can produce, can be taken away at any moment, they are less likely to practice sustainable agriculture methods. Sustainable agriculture techniques require time and effort, but they also allow a farmer to get more out of his or her land and ensure that future generations will also be able to cultivate and use that land effectively. It is no surprise that ensuring farmers have secure land rights can dramatically change their attitude toward their land, to looking at it as an investment. Not having secure land rights, a problem most prevalent in unstable countries, can aggravate the problems of the world’s poor because they do not use their land as productively as they could.

What are some of the benefits of land rights?

According to the Rural Development Institute (RDI), an organization that works with governments to secure land rights, there are many benefits to having land rights, including:

  • Political stability
  • Increased food production
  • Economic growth
  • Greater opportunities for education
  • Easier access to credit for the world’s poor

How is the government involved in helping secure land rights for the poor?

If a government always recognizes someone’s ownership of land, then rights are secure: people are not afraid that their land may be taken away. Some governments, however, do not always recognize land ownership and may take away a person’s land at any moment. This causes instability in a country, aggravating the problems of the poor, who cannot rely on being able to benefit from their land. In this sense, a stable government recognizing people’s land ownership will improve land rights in a country.

That said, there are countries where governments may recognize land rights, but there remain ways for them to improve the situation of the poor. There are some countries where securing a piece of land is very difficult and farmers may have to rent from owners who charge a lot of money for use of their land. In these countries, governments can assist in distributing the land to the poor. This would help reduce poverty by introducing the benefits of land ownership to the poor and prevent harmful owner-tenant relationships that can arise in cases where land ownership is scarce.

If the government is so responsible for land rights, how can people like me help?

Agros International and the Rural Development Institute are two organizations that assist with providing land ownership to the world’s poor.

Agros purchases plots of land and sells them to poor farmers at fair prices. For example, Agros helped Guatemalans Catarina and Diego move from being landless nomads, due to warfare, to becoming founding members of a village on land Agros had purchased. Through hard work and sustainable farming, Catarina and Diego earned enough to buy their land from Agros in 2004. (See www.agros.org.)

RDI works with governments on land ownership laws for the poor. For example, “Namma bhoomi” means “this is our land” in Shakti’s local dialect, but it’s not something Shakti ever dreamed she would be able to say. She used to earn only $1 per day in India, working as a seasonal farm worker when someone would hire her, and other times working as a stone crusher – a very dangerous job. Shakti only owned one sari, the local dress, and could only feed her children one meal a day.

For women in India, it is very hard to acquire land. Although the law grants women the right to inherit land from their father, it usually passes on to her brother. She does not share ownership of land owned by her husband. If she is not married or she loses her husband, she won’t have any place to live and raise her children.

Happily for Shakti, she found out about a program that could change that. RDI and the World Bank have helped create a program where small groups of people working together can receive money from the government to purchase plots of land. With other poor women in her village, Shakti applied for a loan to buy a plot of land. She split the land with the other women, and now owns her own piece of land.

Ensuring land rights is the work of these global organizations, but there are hands on ways for you to help, too: you can write to your legislator about the importance of land ownership rights, and prompt your government to encourage yours and other nations to do what is right.



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