Addressing Land Inequality Key to Tackling Food Security

Land has since time immemorial remained an emotive and sensitive issue.

Even up to now, land tenure security and access are still a burning issue, not only in Zimbabwe, but in Africa and all over the world.

The latest report, produced by the technical specialists at the International Land Coalition in partnership with Oxfam and the World Inequality Lab, shows the growing gap and impact of land ownership concentration into the hands of a few.

Major highlights of the report include the fact that the top 10 percent of the rural population now owns or controls 60 percent of agricultural land value while the majority of the poor — in the lower half controls only three percent.

Publishers of the report say this land inequality continues to threaten the livelihoods of an estimated 2,5 billion people involved in smallholder agriculture.

According to a new report from the Land Inequality Initiative, there is growing inequality in terms of land ownership based on the size and value of land that people have access to or hold, level of security of tenure that people have, actual control that people have including their decision-making power over land and control of the benefits from the land.

Land inequality has tossed the majority of the poor into poverty and food insecurity at a time when the world is also witnessing sharp gaps when it comes to economic, political, social, spatial and environmental inequality.

Researchers in this latest study found out that control over the land has become far more concentrated both directly through ownership and indirectly through contract farming, which results in the loss of agricultural biodiversity.

Monoculture and the rise of smallholdings, is seen as being destructive to crop diversity which is critical to climate resilience.

Another glaring pointer is a worrying trend showing that land inequality is 41 percent higher than previously thought, something that indicates the rising number of landless populations worldwide.

This study which was released towards the end of November 2020, is based on 17 new research papers as well as analysis of existing data and literature.

Data from the report shows that global land concentration has increased continuously since the 1980s with the largest one percent of farms in the world operating more than 70 percent of the world’s farmland.

The Land Inequality Initiative report showed that landlessness was lowest in China and Vietnam while it is highest in Latin America where the majority of the poor who constitute 50 percent of people owned just one percent of the land.

Asia and Africa have the highest levels of smallholdings, where human input tends to be higher than chemical and mechanical factors and where time frames are more likely to be for generations rather than 10-year investment cycles.

Worldwide, between 80 percent and 90 percent of farms are family or smallholder-owned and only cover a small and shrinking part of the land and commercial production, according to the researchers.

The United States and Europe, experienced the biggest shift from smallholder to big farm holdings over the past decades.

Land ownership in these two regions is in fewer hands and even individual farmers work under strict contracts for retailers, giant trading conglomerates and investment funds.

Experts say these financial arrangements are now spreading to the developing world, which is accelerating the decline of soil quality, the overuse of water resources, and the pace of deforestation.

“The concentration of ownership and control results in a greater push for monocultures and more intensive agriculture as investment funds tend to work on 10-year cycles to generate returns,” Ward Anseeuw, senior technical specialist at the International Land Coalition, was quoted in the media saying.

The technical experts warn of the growing and overriding influence of market forces which are weakening the capacity of farmers to protect crop biodiversity and the quality of farm soil.

The report recommends greater regulation and oversight of opaque land ownership systems, a shift in tax regimes to support smallholder farmers and better environmental management and great support for the land rights of local communities.

“Smallholder farmers, family farmers, indigenous people and small communities are much more cautious with use of land.

“It’s not just about return on investment, it’s about culture, identity and leaving something for the next generation. They take much more care and in the long run, they produce more per unit area and destroy less,” says Anseeuw.

Land inequality for Africa means increased food insecurity for the majority of the poor.

The continent remains a huge net food importer, at a cost of more than $47 billion in 2018. Covid-19 restrictions have compounded Africa’s food security position.

It has triggered higher lost income, as unsold and rotting food accumulates on farms. That was not what the African Union hoped for when in 2013 it adopted its Agenda 2063.

Good land governance is widely seen as an anchor to its aspirations and strategic goals of the Agenda 2063 blueprint.

Agricultural analysts say to decrease food importation and escalating food prices, the implementation of AU’s Declaration on Land Issues and Challenges at regional and national levels is imperative.

In addition, they say processes such as the Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa, the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in Context of National Food Security (VGGT), and the AU Guiding Principles on Large Scale Land Based Investments in Africa (LSLBI) provide the continent with instruments to make land a key driver of economic prosperity.

In many African countries, it is worthwhile to note that men and women have inadequate access to secure rights over land, with women being particularly disadvantaged.

The International Land Coalition-Africa’s recent statistics reveal that while women constitute 70 percent of the active rural population and 80 percent of food production capacity in Senegal (and most of sub-Saharan Africa), only 13 percent have access to land and 2,6 percent hold secure land tenure rights.

Furthermore, 61,2 percent of women say that lack of resources deepens inequality on access to land.

Addressing land inequalities and disparities on land issues is a critical step to addressing food and nutrition insecurity in Africa.

Tackling the growing menace of land barons who are selling rural land and other land on the periphery of urban areas to desperate people, is also vital to secure smallholder farm lands and ensure African countries have adequate food.

In the end, such reports as that of the Land Inequality Initiative, should provide some useful insight and strategies for managing our land reform process here in Zimbabwe.

It might be seen as remote, but it could prove strategic in future as we struggle to redistribute the land amongst ourselves as new land owners in the country.

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