Innovation of the Week: Securing Land Rights One Acre at a Time

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By Janeen Madan

Shakti worked as a seasonal agricultural laborer in her village in Chitoor district, located in India’s southern Andhra Pradesh state. Her day-to-day survival was often tenuous –she walked for long hours to surrounding fields looking for work. But today, she is a proud landowner.

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In India and around the world, secure land rights can provide a source of food and income security. (Photo Credit: Deborah Espinosa)

Some 15 million people living in India’s rural areas lack land ownership. And millions more do not have secure rights to the land they currently occupy. This precarious existence means they have no food, income, and livelihood security. But Landesa, a Seattle-based non-profit formerly known as the Rural Development Institute, is combating hunger and poverty by working to secure land rights.

In rural areas around the world, land is the most fundamental asset. It is often difficult for landless farmers to earn enough income to feed their own children. But owning a plot of land for farming allows them to produce fruits and vegetables to nourish their families and helps them earn enough money to put their children through school or pay for medical costs.

For over 40 years, Landesa has been working in 45 countries to help secure land rights for 400 million landless people living in some of the world’s poorest regions. In India, Landesa works in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Odhisa, and West Bengal. It collaborates with government agencies to craft new land policies that benefit the rural poor. The organization places special emphasis on women’s rights. In India, women represent 72 percent of the country’s agriculture sector, but a majority of them lack access to land. And when their husbands die or abandon them, they lose their home and source of food and income.

Landesa’s work begins at the village level, where they speak with farmers, especially women, to learn about the hardships they are facing. Landesa can act as a bridge between these farmers and the policy-makers who are able to reform policies to provide better opportunities. Land tenure experts work with policy-makers at the local and national level to create new laws and programs that help farmers gain access to—and control—of land. The organization also conducts workshops to educate farmers about their legal rights.

In partnership with state governments across India, Landesa has developed a homestead allocation program, which grants poor landless families ownership to house-and-garden plots of about a tenth of an acre. This program brings government representatives into the village, where they ultimately grant land titles to families who have inhabited the land for generations. And last year, India’s central government committed over $200 million to help some 2 million families secure rights to these micro-plots.

When families receive a patta – the piece of paper guaranteeing their right to the land – they gain much-needed security.

Padma, for example, used to earn Rs. 8 a day (less than $.20 USD). But since receiving her patta, she is generating extra income to support her family. She also began raising jasmine flowers, which she sells to visitors at the nearby temple. Today, Padma’s two daughters attend school and eat healthy meals every day. And now Padma is respected by both men and women in her community.

In India and around the world, secure land rights provide a source of food and income, empowering families and communities with stability, dignity, and hope. Innovations that help people secure rights to the land they till can strengthen food security and lift millions out of poverty.

To learn more about innovations to secure land rights and empower women, see: Empowering Women to Take Back the Land, Empowering the Women of India’s Poorest Region, Innovation of the Week: Banking on the Harvest, Innovation of the Week: Feeding Communities by Focusing on Women, Strengthening Rural Women’s Leadership in Farming and Producer Organization, and Rural Women’s Leadership in Agriculture and NRM Scoping Studies.

Janeen Madan is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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