Editorial – Securing Land Rights

Agriculture remains an important and the only source of livelihood to the majority in developing countries.

However, poor people’s access to land is limited and insecure; access by some groups – such as women and indigenous populations – is even more precarious. Along with its economic functions in the sectors of agriculture, industry, housing and infrastructure development, land also has a profound social function to perform. The distribution of land impacts the quality of the social fabric in a community and the dynamics of gender relations within that community.

The pressure on land is rising. The ecological balance between land used for agriculture, forestry and non-agriculture purpose is being disturbed. While population growth, increasing fragmentation and resource degradation are affecting agriculture, land use conversion and commercial interests are resulting in land being diverted to non-food use. This is the issue of great concern as national food security is at stake. With multiple demands on land, farmers are losing out on land. The poor farmers and those living on the fringes of forests are the most affected.

Many poor communities, particularly the tribals depend on forests for their livelihoods. Deforestation, use of land to commercial purposes and extensive mining is driving away the local tribal communities from their traditional livelihoods. Monoculture plantation of tree species, and in some cases the widespread plantation of water-consuming trees like eucalyptus, has resulted in the degradation of soils and a falling water table (Sarangi, Biswal and Rivera, p. 13).

Land and food security

The demand for food is rising. The land resource for food production is increasingly diminishing. Landlessness and land fragmentation are growing worldwide. For example, in India, average landholding size fell from 2.6 hectares in 1960 to 1.3 hectares in 2000-01 and is still falling. The onset of globalisation and the opening up of the world markets has put more demands on the limited land resource. While on one hand this could be perceived as a growth opportunity, on the other, this may result in greater marginalisation of the poor. Private

companies and corporate players are increasingly taking over the food production from farmers. It is estimated that just a dozen companies are about to gain hold of 50,000 hectares of land. A number of corporate players have entered into agreements with farmers with major investments to tap the potential of Indian agriculture. With new players, new technologies are also entering the food production market. Land is increasingly being perceived as a commodity. It is rigorously being exploited to generate immediate, short-term gains, at the expense of a long-term impacts on the land resource and the environment. Big investments are being made resulting in land-use changes to the detriment of food security, bio-diversity and the environment. Farming is no longer being perceived as a way of life.

“Too many investments have resulted indispossession, deception, violation of human rights and destruction of livelihoods. Without national and international measures to defend rights of people living in poverty, this modern day land ruch looks set to leave too many poor families worse off, often evicted from their land, with little or no recourse to justice.”

Oxfam, “Land and Power: The growing scandalsurrounding the new wave investments in land”, 151 Oxfam Briefing Paper, September 2011.

SEZs and land acquisition has been taking place in India in a very fast pace over the last few years. It is estimated that more than 10 lakh people who are dependent upon agricultural lands will be evicted from their lands, and the farming families will have to face loss of around Rs.212 crores each year in total income, putting the food security of India at risk. The signs are already evident in the peri urban areas.

High quality land is being diverted from local food production and livestock grazing, to non-agricultural purposes. A study in the peri-urban areas of Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh has shown that with land prices shooting up for non-agricultural purposes, farmers have sold their lands. Farming has almost entirely been replaced with alternative non-farm livelihoods (Suresh Reddy and Praveena, p.24). There is already a growing dissent, uproar, and opposition from the farmers, for their livelihood has been put at stake.

Partnerships with a difference

Various measures of land reforms undertaken by the government since independence did not yield the desired results. However some of the States have shown greater interest in taking up new initiatives to address the land issue through redistribution of land. In partnership with Landesa, national and state governments in India have developed another path toward the same goal: micro-plots. These plots allow families to produce most of the fruits and vegetables they need and to sell excess produce, providing a small income to supplement their earnings as wage laborers. In 2002, Indira Karanthi Patham Project (IKP) in Andhra Pradesh, Namma Bhoomi – Namma Thota (My Land – My Garden) in Karnataka, Chash o Basebaser bhumi-dan Prakalpa (cultivation and dwelling plot allocation scheme) in West Bengal and Vasundhara scheme in Orissa are some of the examples.

In Philippines, a different type of partnership was tried out to improve the overall situation of migrated communities in the urban areas. The concept of “gardens of the poor” or “allotment gardens” promoted in Cagayan de Oro City are providing the much needed food, nutrition and income to the farmers (Holmer and Drescher, p.10).

Partnership of development organisations in Nepal has led to the “Strategic Plan for the Land Rights Movement – 2009-13”. This strategic partnership has been moving ahead with significant success in terms of recognition by the State, trust and ownership by right holders and commitment by development partners (Deuja and Khatiwada, p.22).

People’s institutional efforts

here are a number of people’s organisations working on the ground helping and empowering the poor communities to secure their land rights. These Civil Society Organisations, around 300 of them, are actively supporting the cause by organizing, educating and empowering local communities. They are also serving as a mediator between the communities and the government.

The building of organizations of farmers and landless is a first step in enabling and strengthening collective action. Small farmers need to be well informed and organized to be able to negotiate. KIRDTI is one of the NGOs which has been organizing and building the capacities of adivasis in Keonjhar district. Today the tribals are an empowered lot who are able to address the issues affecting them on their own. For instance, around 2,500 of the adivasis, demonstrated a protest against compensatory commercial plantation species like Eucalyptus, Acacia, teak etc., promoted by the Department, which were neither edible nor environment friendly (Duskar Barik, p.16).

Legal awareness is crucial while fighting for land rights. Civil Society Organisations are finding innovative ways of providing this much needed legal support to farmers. For instance, RDI-India, in partnership with Andhra Pradesh Mahila Samatha Society and Landesa is training paralegals to help landless woman gain ownership title to the land on which they currently reside. With RDI’s initiative, as many as 280,000 formerly poor landless families have become landowners in Andhra Pradesh.(Haque and Gregory Rake, p.6). Similarly, KIRDTI started legal education camp to the adivasi communities as illegal land transfers from the adivasi families to the non-adivasis is very common in the area (Duskar Barik, p.16).

“The current food crisis is the result of food supplies not matching the demand, but to a large extent, it is also an issue of inequality of access to the available food and, more generally, to the wealth created. Thus, there is a need to create an environment that is conducive to more equity, particularly interms of access to land.”

Madiodio Niasse, Director, International Land Coalition.

More and more people are joining the struggle against the current land policies. Building up as a strong social force, they are able to pressurize the government into action. The Janadesh campaign, spearheaded by Ekta Parishad, brought together 25,000 people representing communities from all over India, also supported by around 250 Civil Society Organisations. The expression of people’s power resulted in the Minister of Rural Development agreeing to form a National Land Reforms Council and a National Land Reforms Committee (Rajagopal, p.33).


Rural poverty, landlessness and insecure land tenures are all linked. It is therefore important that land issues are seen with its link to people’s livelihoods and not devoid of them. Also, the issues of other resources like water and forests need to be considered. The issue of land needs to be addressed as a partnership approach with the government, civil society organisation and people’s organizations.

Secure access to land is critical for the millions of rural people relying on agriculture and related activities for their livelihoods. It is also key to sustainable use of natural resources, enabling food security. Secure land tenure becomes a fundamental building block for the development of sustainable and peaceful societies. Many examples of innovative approaches exist. Some of them are presented in this issue.


ANGOC 2009. Securing the Right to Land, A CSO Overview on Access to Land in Asia.

Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ANGOC), Quezon City, Philippines

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