Feed the Future Proves Commitment to Securing Land Tenure

With the endorsement of the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems (RAI) in October, attention turns to how to reflect the principles and practices outlined in the RAI in foreign assistance and public and private investments. The United States’ global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future, already places responsible investment at the core of its programs–including clarifying land rights and maximizing the positive impact of agricultural investments on women, smallholder farmers, and families’ nutritional status.

The 2014 Feed the Future progress report, released in May, highlights projects in several countries in which land rights were incorporated into Feed the Future programming–by strengthening land rights, land governance, and land allocation mechanisms, in order to increase investment in land and rural productivity. Some of these efforts are taking place in Senegal and Burkina Faso, with support from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC); they demonstrate how more secure land tenure can help to increase agricultural investment and improve food security.

Incorporating Land Tenure into Feed the Future Programming

From 2009 through 2014, MCC supported the Government of Burkina Faso’s efforts to develop and implement improved rural land legislation, improve institutional capacity to deliver land services in rural areas, and support site-specific land tenure interventions. The land tenure interventions included participatory land use management planning, formalizing customary land rights, and digitizing existing records. This project helped farmers like Siaka Sanou; before Siaka had an official land possession certificate proving his rights he limited the investments that he made in his land out of fear that someone else would claim it. However, once he received the certificate, with assistance from the U.S. government, he felt secure enough to invest in water pumps for irrigation. Siaka is also renting his land without fear that the renters will claim it. Building on the success of MCC’s work, USAID is now supporting the initial start-up phase of a National Land Observatory (NLO). The NLO aims to strengthen Burkina Faso’s land governance and improve transparency in land transactions to promote greater consistency with the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests.

In Senegal, land rights constituted an important part of an irrigation activity in an agricultural investment and production project. During the project design phase, officials realized that increasing the value of land by adding or improving irrigation infrastructure would likely increase demand for the improved land, thus possibly increasing the risk of land conflict. To minimize this risk, a land tenure intervention was designed as a component of the project. The approach is based on careful identification and accounting for existing land rights – whether formal or informal (i.e., customary) – throughout intervention zones. When local farmers’ existing land and property rights are clarified and formalized, they gain assurance that their rights will be protected. Such assurance is both necessary and appreciated in light of the powerful, large-scale agricultural investment interests that in recent years have periodically made headlines in the Senegal River Valley.

The project in Senegal shows that addressing land tenure security does not always need to be a stand-alone activity, but rather can be woven into the project design of agricultural programs. By highlighting programs that work to strengthen land tenure for rural farmers, the 2014 Feed the Future progress report demonstrates the important supporting role that land rights play in ensuring food security for a growing global population.