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1. Access to land and water

40. IFAD’s 2011 Rural Poverty Report highlights how the natural resources on which agriculture is based – land and water above all – are becoming degraded and there is growing competition for their use. Climate change is already exacerbating this situation, making agriculture more risky, and it will have an even greater impact in the future (IFAD 2010). 

1a. Land

Possible policy indicator questions: Access to land

  • To what extent is land titled and registered? How easy is it to register land?
  • Do land policy frameworks accommodate and build on customary norms and practices?
  • Are policies in place to ensure the sustainable management of common property resources?
  • To what extent do land laws guarantee secure tenure for the poor, for women and for other vulnerable groups?
  • Are special provisions in place to close the gender gap in land access?  For example, is there a legal requirement for national and local institutions to include women in land management and allocation decisions and in dispute resolution mechanisms?
  • Do smallholder farmers, in particular women farmers and the poor, have access to justice and affordable legal services to resolve land disputes?
  • Are key international guidelines and frameworks being utilised for responsible governance and investment in land and natural resources and to safeguard the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable?

41. Lack of secure tenure is one of the key factors influencing African smallholder farmers’ productivity and scope for participating in markets.  Farmers who do not know what their rights are or who fear that those rights are not secure are less likely to invest in productivity-enhancing assets and are also unlikely to qualify for credit to facilitate such investment (Shepherd 2007). Many African countries have no formal land titling or registration system, often because landholding is predominantly based on communal and shared rights of access and use.  More than 90% of the rural population of Africa accesses land and natural resources via customary tenure systems, which may or may not be recognised by the state (UNDP 2006).  Land titling and registration is an important step towards greater tenure security.
42. Progress is being made with rationalising customary and statutory laws and decentralising land management organisations in several African countries (Garvelink 2012a), and many have implemented land reform programmes which include fast-track titling mechanisms.  For example, in Madagascar poor people were banned from owning land they depended on for their survival until the government introduced a policy to improve land security in 2005. As a result Malagasies could formalise ownership of the land using a simple certification process. With the support of IFAD, by 2012 over 3,000 land certificates had been distributed through decentralised land administration offices, in a process participants found “quick and easy”.  Special attention was paid to equitable distribution of certificates including to the poorest and to women (IFAD 2012).
43. Secure tenure does not necessarily require individual ownership of land or control over resources. For many years, efforts to improve tenure security focused almost entirely on private entitlement, with the predominant policy prescription being the individualisation of land held under custom. However, evidence is building that land tenure reform and individual property rights over former communal lands do not necessarily lead to increased productivity (Pinckney & Kimuyu 1994). Smallholders often depend on more flexible, diversified and common property systems where their influence over access to various resources is greater.  Policy frameworks that accommodate and build on customary norms and practices are therefore likely better to serve their needs; this could include improved tenancy arrangements rather than outright ownership. Land reform strategies should take account of the prevailing farming system and the specific tenure arrangements for different land use practices that it comprises. Mwijage et al (2011) quote the example of tenure reforms in the banana-growing region of northwest Tanzania, where customary tenure and land use practices were destabilised by programmes facilitating individual control of previously communal lands. 
44. Policies aimed at sustainable management of common resources can also be more useful than individualising access rights. In Nepal a leasehold community forestry project involved groups of poor forest users being given long-term leases to severely degraded areas of forest for them to manage, regenerate and protect. 65% of the forest plots were regenerated between 1990 and 2009, while household income increased by more than 70% over the same period (IFAD 2012).
45. Women’s land rights are particularly weak, as they are often tied to their filial connections, which means they are at great risk of losing access to land when their circumstances change (for example, when a husband dies). Women formally own only 1% of agricultural land in Africa, despite producing 80% of the food and doing most of the work in storing, processing, transporting and marketing it (Sanginga (IDRC) quoted in Bafana 2008).  Closing the gender gap in land access requires special provisions to be put in place, such as making it a legal requirement for national and local institutions to include women in land management and allocation decisions and in dispute resolution mechanisms.
46. Land laws should guarantee secure tenure for the poor, for women and for other vulnerable groups. Rwanda’s new land policy enacted through the 2005 Organic Land Law has the explicit goal to protect and enforce landholders’ rights and to provide land tenure security for all citizens without discrimination. A study into the impacts of the new law found that it is having a positive impact in safeguarding, protection and enforcement of land rights for widows and female orphans (Uwayezu & Mugiraneza 2011).
47. Land and resource users need clarity about the nature and duration of their rights and those rights need to be provable, recognised and secure. But property rights alone are not enough to achieve tenure security: smallholders also need access to trustworthy land administration, affordable legal services, and honest, fair and gender-neutral enforcement and judicial systems (Garvelink 2012a).  Indeed, on their own formalising property rights could lead to negative outcomes such as the concentration of land rights or resource control in the hands of powerful local elites. Women farmers in particular tend to lose out when land and resource access rights are formalised, as such rights would typically vest with men (Quan et al 2004).
48. The spotlight on tenure security is intensifying amidst growing concern about the number of large-scale land acquisitions that have been taking place in recent years in several African countries (for a sample of the very large literature on the topic see Cotula et al 2009, Oxfam 2012b, Cotula & Polack 2012). Demand for biofuels and increased food production, particularly of meat, creates growing pressures to consolidate small landholdings and to convert ‘unused’ or ‘unproductive’ land into commercial farms, often run by foreign agribusinesses.  In many cases these acquisitions have resulted in forest dwellers, pastoralists who use large areas of grazing land, and smallholder farmers lacking formal title, losing their rights to communal lands or access to the natural resources they depend on for their livelihoods. The fact that many of these ‘land grabs’ are marked by a distinct lack of transparency (an issue addressed by the Land Matrix) and that they are more likely to occur in countries with weak governance structures rather than those with a large surplus of arable land, adds to the concern (Oxfam 2012b).  The experiences of the Green Belt Initiative in Malawi, as well as a number of case studies on large-scale land investments documented in the literature demonstrate that so far smallholder farmers have nearly always lost their land deals of this nature (Chinsinga and Chasukwa 2012 on Malawi; see also Cotula et al 2009, Cotula & Polack 2012, Daniel & Mittal 2010, and work by the International Land Commission and the Land Matrix). Oxfam and others are calling on the World Bank to temporarily freeze investments involving large-scale land deals so it can review its advice to developing countries, help set standards for investors, and introduce more robust policies to stop land grabs.
49. A number of international initiatives have emerged that aim to address, among other issues, farmers’ access to land and natural resources.  These include the Committee on CFS Voluntary Guidelines; the World Bank/UNCTAD/IFAD/FAO’s Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment Principles that Respect Lives, Livelihoods and Resources (PRAI); and the Africa Union’s (AU) Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa.  Although on their own they may not be enough significantly to improve the outcomes of the large-scale land deals across sub-Saharan Africa, governments should nevertheless be encouraged and supported to follow these guidelines and implement best practice. 

1b. Water

Possible policy indicator questions: Water

  • Does the government prioritise investment in infrastructure to improve smallholder farmers’ access to water, including supporting the development of on-farm water management and water harvesting technologies?
  • Does the government implement water use policies?
  • Are water rights recognised and protected?  Is special provision made to protect the rights of the most vulnerable and excluded?
  • Where water rights are controlled by the private sector, are regulations in place to ensure good governance of the water source and consultation with communities and farmers who rely on it for their livelihoods? Does the government monitor water-sharing commitments in contracts signed with corporate land investors?
  • Are implications for water users adequately considered in granting land access to large-scale foreign and domestic investors? Does the pricing of such deals take full account of impacts on water availability and existing users’ rights of access?

50. Reliable and affordable access to water is a constant challenge for many African smallholder farmers. Although Africa has vast under-utilised water resources, they are very unevenly distributed, with three-quarters of African countries located in arid and semi-arid zones (FAO-WALS). Population growth, over-use and climate change are contributing to increasing water scarcity. Rainfall uncertainty is the principal constraint to increased agricultural productivity in much of sub-Saharan Africa. Irregular supply and extreme events such as droughts and floods, which are increasing both in frequency and intensity due to climate change, can have a devastating impact on harvests.
51. The FAO estimates that sub-Saharan Africa currently uses only 3% of its available water resources, and at present only 4% of arable land is irrigated compared to some 40% in Asia (FAO-WALS).  As irrigated land is approximately three times more productive than rain-fed land, there is a strong case to be made for increasing the area of farmland under irrigation. Governments should direct significant resources to investing in large-scale irrigation projects, as suggested in the section above dealing with rural infrastructure.
52. However, focusing exclusively on large-scale irrigation schemes will not solve the water challenge that many smallholder farmers face.  Especially in remote regions with intermittent or no access to energy, hi-tech drip or pumping systems are of little use to smallholders.  Appropriate innovative technologies are required to manage and increase the quantity of water on farmers' fields. Good on-farm water management needs to be promoted and training provided in techniques such as rainwater harvesting, water conservation and efficient use in dryland areas. There is also an urgent need for more research on, and promotion of, drought-tolerant species that are better suited to dryland production.
53. Women in particular spend hours every week collecting water, which impacts significantly on their farm productivity and output.  Upgrading rural water infrastructure to improve smallholder access to clean sources and reduce the time required to collect and store water would have a significant impact on women farmers’ productivity, which has been shown to translate into higher levels of investment into farm assets as well as children’s health and education.
54. Rainwater harvesting techniques are simple, small-scale, cost-effective schemes that involve the capture, storage and redirection of rainfall and runoff using simple technologies such as stone bunds. These schemes are within reach of most smallholder farmers and offer the potential to double crop yields.  However, whilst water harvesting projects have delivered impressive results on a localised level, plot-level results have rarely been replicated successfully (Conway 2012).
55. Water availability is not the only issue affecting smallholder farmers in Africa.  Increasing commercialisation of agriculture and the growing presence of large-scale agribusinesses create strong competition for water and other resources, and smaller producers are often faced with losing their rights of access.  Government can intervene through the recognition and protection of water rights, particularly for vulnerable water users including the poor and marginalised, and women farmers.   
56. Where water rights are controlled by the private sector, regulations are needed to ensure good governance of the water source and to require that decisions around resource utilisation are taken in consultation with communities and farmers who rely on it for their livelihoods.  For example, when a state-owned sugarcane scheme in Burkina Faso was sold to a private company, management of the public dams used for irrigation by the Karfiguela rice-growing scheme was also handed over to the company. As pressure on the water resource grows – rice farmers want access to more water in order to double-crop but the company is refusing to release the additional water to them – dissatisfaction and tension is mounting and calls are increasingly being made on the government to take back control of the dams to ensure equitable management of the shared resource (Levite 2010).
57. Concerns are growing that many of the so-called land grabs discussed in the previous section are in fact ‘water grabs’. In a special issue of the Water Alternatives journal, Mehta  (2012) point to the interconnectedness of water and land and argue that water is both a target and driver of the global rush to acquire land, even though it is often not explicitly mentioned in the contracts governing large-scale land acquisitions. The journal discusses several examples of ‘water grabbing’ deals in sub-Saharan Africa, most of which resulted in the loss of water rights for indigenous communities including smallholder farmers, often with devastating consequences. For example, a study into recent large-scale land acquisitions for biofuel production in the Ashanti, Brong-Ahafo and Northern regions of Ghana found an almost universal lack of consideration of the implications of large-scale land deals for crop water requirements, the ecological functions of freshwater ecosystems and water rights of local smallholder farmers and other users (Williams et al in Mehta 2012).  Because land and water management policies and institutions were not considered jointly in acceding to large-scale land deals, the benefits derived by local people were insufficient to cover the involuntary permanent loss of their water rights and livelihoods and the risks posed to ecosystem services.  In negotiating large-scale land deals with foreign investors, governments need to ensure that proposed pricing takes into account any impacts on water availability and access for existing users including farmers; and should put in place measure to safeguard such access.

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