The Seeds of Reconstruction

A USAID-facilitated public private partnership is supporting agribusiness in the sesame value chain in post-conflict Colombia.

In Colombia’s Caribbean region, sesame was often viewed as a secondary crop that farmers planted in the months following a cotton or tobacco harvest. Sesame is known for resiliency, and farmers covered their fields with it to improve soil health and moisture retention. In the late 80s, as tobacco markets diminished, and then in the 90s, when the Montes de María region erupted in violence, farmers all but forgot about sesame cultivation.

In its heyday in the eighties, experts estimated that farmers in the Montes de María region (Sucre, Bolívar, and Córdoba) produced up to 25,000 MT of sesame each year. Three decades later, sesame production has been reduced by 95% to just 800 MT in 2021.

Besides being one of the most drought tolerant crops in the world, sesame cultivation is low risk, in that it offers high returns for little investment. Today, sesame enjoys high demand for its oil that is used in a variety of cuisines and global sesame markets are stable. Thanks to a public private partnership in the sesame value chain, facilitated by USAID, Colombian farmers are getting a new opportunity to cultivate high quality sesame for export.

The PPP, which is valued at nearly USD 1.8M, was signed in March and includes 21 farmer associations representing 565 farmers (41% women). The objective of the PPP is to increase planting and production of sesame to 2,000 MT by 2025. As farmers increase production, a chorus of public sector partners are supporting the value chain and local capacity.

Colombian food retailer and exporter Sumapaz Foods joined the partnership to provide purchasing agreements with the associations. Sumapaz Foods works with vulnerable groups and victims of the conflict to offer a diverse portfolio of Colombian products to gourmet food retailers in Europe and beyond.

“Through this PPP, we hope to close the gap that has existed due to middlemen buyers. With direct sales, now we are ensured fair prices. That is why we are excited to be part of this partnership, it builds our confidence and gives us a guarantee to continue our work to plant and harvest sesame.”

– Yoleida Salcedo, a member of a the Pativaca Women’s Association, a group of 35 women who grow a variety of products including sesame.

Cutting out middlemen is a benefit, but the women of Pativaca are organized for an additional reason: women’s empowerment. Many of the members are single mothers with families to support.

“We no longer just procreate and take care of the children. That was a thing in the past. We are awake and capable of making business, leading our own projects, and putting food on the table for our children,” says Salcedo.

For Salcedo, sesame has been a part of her community for her entire life, but only recently did the women focused on turning it into a business. With support from the PPP, women’s associations like Pativaca will receive technical assistance in agronomy and business administration. They will also participate in the creation of a regional sesame seed bank that will help to guarantee sesame quality and traceability.

“For us, sesame is on the table at every meal. Thanks to this partnership, our vision is changing and we see opportunities. We no longer see it as a product that feeds our families, it will create revenue, and we are making business.

Women’s Land Rights Champion: Semaly Kisamo

This series features Women’s Land Rights Champions within USAID to learn more about their work. We’re pleased to share this interview with Semaly Kisamo, USAID Tanzania’s Project Management Specialist for Policy. 

Semaly Kisamo, USAID/Tanzania

Tell us about yourself

I joined the USAID/Tanzania mission in July 2016 as the Project Management Specialist for Policy in the Economic Growth (EG) Office, which is responsible for planning, managing, and evaluating projects and activities in support of USAID/Tanzania’s 2nd development objective (empowerment, productivity, and engagement of Tanzanians aged 15 to 35 increased). The EG Office is also responsible for implementing Feed the Future, Power Africa and other Presidential Initiatives in Tanzania and coordinating with Regional and Global programs.

As a key member of the Resilience and Food Security Team (RFS) within the Economic Growth Office, my role includes providing technical direction in designing programs that seek to accelerate Tanzania’s adoption of more effective policies to drive broad-based agricultural sector growth in the country. In addition, I oversee activity performance, financial reports, and manage the assigned portfolio. My work also involves building and strengthening relationships with key relevant partner institutions, including the Prime Minister’s Office, the ministry

of Agriculture, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Human Settlements Development, and other key national, sub-national and non-governmental institutions in Tanzania to encourage optimal coordination, harmonization, and alignment of U.S. Government policy programs.

Currently, I serve as the Agreement/Contracting Officer’s Representative (A/COR) for USAID/Tanzania’s Feed the Future flagship policy activity, SERA BORA ( “Better Policies”). Prior to that, I managed the Feed the Future Tanzania Land Tenure Assistance (LTA) activity. Before joining USAID/Tanzania, I worked for over 12 years with the Government of Tanzania (GoT) as a Senior Economist in the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Home Affairs. Before serving in the GoT, I worked as a Programme Officer Grants for the Foundation for Civil Society Limited, an international Non-Governmental Organization. I hold a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and a Master of Arts in Public Policy specializing in Development Policy from Crawford School of Public Policy in Australia.

Why are women’s land rights and resource governance important to your work? And to other USAID development work?

The demand for and pressure on Tanzania’s land and resources is growing rapidly. Global interest in acquiring arable land for commercial agriculture combined with population growth, rapid urbanization, and conservation pressure is driving competition for Tanzania’s increasingly scarce land. As part of  USAID/Tanzania’s Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS 2020-2025), which puts a lot of emphasis on empowering women and youth, USAID funded the Land Tenure Assistance (LTA) project from the period of 2015-2021, implemented in the Iringa and Mbeya regions. The project worked to clarify and document land ownership, supported land use planning initiatives, increased local residents’ understanding of land use and property rights, established land ownership, and ensured broad, inclusive community involvement in a transparent titling process, particularly for women and youth. According to Tanzania’s recent population census, Tanzania will grow by over 10 million individuals by 2030, putting pressure on social services, yet creating great economic potential if appropriately managed. Tanzania’s economy relies heavily on farming, raising animals, fishing, preserving wildlife, and managing forests. Together, these industries contribute about 65% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), make up 60% of the earnings from exports, and provide employment for over 80% of the population. Out of this, 65 percent is dominated by women and youth, who comprise a large segment of the labour-force in rural areas.

What are some of the biggest challenges in helping women secure land rights and what are some things being done to overcome them?

Tanzanian law grants equal land rights to men and women. The reality, however, is that women own and control only a small portion of land assets, and, in many communities, are either unaware of their land rights or are prohibited from owning land because of traditional patriarchal norms. Tanzania’s marriage and inheritance laws are often unfavorable towards women and their children, and frequently dispossess them of their rightful land. 

The success of the Land Tenure Assistance project (LTA) rested heavily on its consistent focus on community engagement and education. Specialized awareness training on land rights was provided to women and men so that women’s rights to occupy land were well understood and implemented. In addition, awareness training was provided to all women’s groups and small groups of residents at the hamlet level to ensure that men and women have a thorough understanding of their rights and responsibilities, and of the legal framework underpinning the registration of village land in Tanzania. By the end of the project’s implementation, as a result of the strong emphasis on raising awareness about women’s land rights in Tanzania, LTA achieved a 50/50 gender balance of land claims.

What are some of USAID’s successes in the area of women’s land rights?

When the Land Tenure Assistance (LTA) project began in 2015, the participation of women in village meetings was very low due to men’s traditional dominance in public gatherings. Culturally, women do not speak freely before men in a public meeting with the exception of very few educated and courageous women. It is a deeply entrenched cultural belief that men must have dominance in land ownership. Women do not have equal rights in making decisions on financial and property related matters. For example, although working on the farm is a major role for most women, the husband controls all aspects of selling the agricultural products. Women are also often burdened with many other concerns such as tending to children, working in gardens, and making sure that children attend school while men might spend their time drinking local beer.  

LTA acknowledged the difficulties encountered by women in its designated villages and implemented specialized training programs specifically for them. These training initiatives fostered a safe space where women could openly address concerns related to land rights, free from any apprehension or pressure from men. As a result of this special training, women were empowered to claim their land rights. In LTA’s target villages, the ratio of formal land certificate ownership was evenly divided between men and women. LTA also initiated women’s focus groups to empower women in rural economic activities and small businesses such as gardening, poultry, and piggery, and to teach them about credit and savings skills.  

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Local sustainability is a critical component in systematic rural land registration. In order to have a successful system that is inclusive, it is imperative to work closely with indigenous communities and to empower district and village land institutions to carry out the work on their own. This will ensure sustainability and enable indigenous communities to develop their capacity and skills, and to carry forward the process independently once outside support ends.

A Guarantee for Ataco’s Ethnic Communities

Robust safeguards help manage social risks during USAID land tenure programming and contribute to the social well-being of ethnic communities

A Forgotten History

The Pijao ethnic community has lived in the mountains of Tolima since before European colonization. Organized in federations, Pijao communities gradually lost their control over vast areas of land in southern Tolima and other parts of Colombia’s central region. In the 20th century, the Pijao saw a resurgence to reclaim their ancestral lands, and the government officially recognized several reservations.

Despite the violence that displaced families, leading to widespread dispossession and social and cultural disintegration, social indigenous movements managed to recover an estimated 20 percent of the Pijao landholdings that were established under colonial rule. Most of these achievements were made with dozens of small communities scattered throughout southern Tolima.

In the municipality of Ataco, three of its 10 Pijao communities are officially recognized by the government, allowing the Pijao to live and farm on land that is protected under the rule of law.

In 2022, The USAID-supported parcel sweep in Ataco provided the remaining seven communities the opportunity to make a case to the government for their land rights. To do this, USAID adhered to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) best practices to assure the community agreed to participate. FPIC is a right that indigenous and Afro-descendant communities have to say yes or no to any proposal that could affect their territory and social structure.

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Seven Pijao communities in Ataco worked with the parcel sweep teams to meet the requirements to request the creation of protected indigenous reservations, including: Brisas de Atá; Mesa de Pole; Ico Valle de Anape; Kalapicá Ambulú Territorio Sagrado; Ancestral Pijao Buena Vista; Caciques de Agua Dulce; and Casa de Zinc.

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The FPIC strategy is inclusive and participatory and demonstrates a successful intercultural dialogue around land and territory. Following the FPIC process, which included meetings with more than 100 Pijao leaders and community members, the remaining seven Pijao communities voted to participate in the parcel sweep, and worked with teams to survey their land. With the technical information, the seven Pijao reservations, representing some 600 families, presented requests to the National Land Agency to create protected reservations for their communities.

“The parcel sweep helped us to strengthen our land claims and defend our territory. This shows that we can work as a community and reach agreements through dialogue and that we can indeed achieve differential treatment as indigenous people,” says Rosmira Luna, 60-year-old governor of the Pijao indigenous cabildo in the Mesa de Pole village.

Keys to success include respect for the Pijao’s autonomy and self-determination, a series of consultations with Pijao leaders, and the wide participation of the community.

“Now we can finally move forward with the reservation.” –Rosmira Luna, Pijao indigenous cabildo in the Mesa de Pole, Ataco, Tolima

USAID developed the parcel sweep method in partnership with contributions from the National Land Agency and Colombian land agencies. The initiative seeks to update the nation’s rural cadaster, resolve land conflicts, and deliver land titles to rural landowners, and helps the government meet the commitments made in the 2016 Peace Accords.

In the process, USAID updated the parcel sweep methodology with guidelines on working with ethnic communities. The guidelines will improve the government’s application of FPIC in relation to land formalization and are part of fulfilling USAID’s guiding principles to promote the rights of indigenous groups in relation to Colombian land laws.

In late 2022, the Ataco parcel sweep finished field work, identifying 11,843 parcels covering approximately 100,000 hectares. As the parcel data is processed, it is then sent to the National Land Agency, which determines which parcels are immediately subject to formalization. With an estimated 5,000 parcels ready to be titled, the Ataco parcel sweep is Colombia’s largest land formalization initiative yet.

“For us it was important that LFP and the agencies came to consult with our community in Ataco, because it is a fundamental right and part of the governance of our indigenous territories. With USAID we achieved success in the support for the documentation to constitute the seven Pijao communities’ reservations before the National Land Agency. If it were not for USAID it would not have been possible.” 

-Diana Maritza Figueroa, Governor of the Kalapika Ambulú sacred territory of the Pijao (Ataco)

Equitable Resource Governance Helps Build Peace

Across the Sahel, growing tensions between farmers and herders are more frequently spilling over into deadly clashes. Rapid population growth, along with the impacts of climate change such as extreme drought and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, are intensifying pressures on land and associated natural resources, contributing to this uptick in violence. 

These challenges speak to an increasingly common dynamic worldwide: climate change is exacerbating competition over natural resources, leading to increased volatility and conflict. In the coming decades, global trendsurbanization, forced displacement, rising resource demand, and environmental degradationwill only make matters worse. Without governance structures and adaptation efforts that explicitly account for the compounding challenges of climate change and conflict, many communities will continue to struggle with this dual burden.

Members of a village Management Committee assemble to discuss a Local Convention on the use of natural resources in the area.

Photo source: Leonora Baumann
Members of a village Management Committee assemble to discuss a Local Convention on the use of natural resources in the area. Photo source: Leonora Baumann

Shared land and water use also create opportunities for peaceful coexistence. In Niger, for example, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s TerresEauVie activity brought together herders and farmers through participatory and community-based natural resource governance, leading to a reduction in the number of conflicts by half in some areas. Community representatives co-developed agreements that governed resource access and prevented overexploitationin essence, they developed a localized means to address the risks of climate change. 

Revised Toolkits on Resource-Related Conflict

In 2022, USAID released the Land and Conflict and Water and Conflict toolkits to help USAID Missions, implementing partners, and other development practitioners understand resource-related tensions, identify how land rights and water service delivery are challenged by conflict, and consider best practices in addressing cross-sectoral challenges. The toolkits also underscore the importance of conflict sensitivity in climate change-related programs. 

The toolkits outline, for example, how historical injustices and current inequities can translate into highly unequal patterns of land access, control, and ownership. These factors contribute to marginalization, grievances, and insecurity, and can often lead to violent conflict. Similarly, competition over inadequate water resources risks triggering or exacerbating conflict. Even when water is not directly connected to conflict, water insecurity can impact the causes of conflict such as weak institutions, ethnic tensions, and income inequality, making it more difficult to adapt to climate shocks.

These toolkits can assist USAID Missions and partners in leveraging land and water governance to mitigate ongoing conflict within the context of their programming. For instance, well-governed land systems provide accessible and trusted processes for dispute resolution, which can reduce the need to use violence. Addressing land-related conflicts and grievances is also a proven tool for mitigating conflict more broadly. 

If managed effectively and cooperatively, water can also serve as a critical pathway for collaboration, conflict prevention, and peacebuilding. Shared dependence on scarce water resources provides opportunities for long-term, repeated interactions that can lead to peaceful and productive partnerships. For example, between 1945 and 1999, cooperative events related to water issues outnumbered conflicts by more than two-to-one, and none of the 1,800 disputes over transboundary basins during those years led to formal war.  

As the impacts of climate change become more acute, however, it is important to recognize that incidents of resource-related conflict are becoming more commonplace. For example, according to the Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database, one quarter of tracked water-related incidents have been hostile, which reflects a change from the historical precedent in which amicable cooperation was the expected norm.

Moving Beyond Sectoral Approaches

The toolkits make clear that in fragile and conflict-affected settings, natural resource programming should always incorporate conflict sensitivity during planning and design. This involves championing locally-led programs, inclusive and participatory planning, and forming strategic partnerships with local stakeholders. Building on a “do no harm” foundation, all conflict-sensitive programs must include peacebuilding and community solidarity as objectives.

To connect USAID’s broader environment and conflict portfolios, it is imperative that development practitioners move beyond sectors. Both toolkits are designed to do just that. The Land and Conflict and Water and Conflict toolkits provide an important overview of the multifaceted relationship between land and water governance, climate change, and conflict. The toolkits offer a suite of approaches that USAID Missions, implementing partners, and other practitioners can use to address resource-related causes of disputes and conflict. Improved understanding of these linkages will help USAID and its partners better diagnose challenges and develop creative, evidence-based, and integrated research, policies, and programs that more effectively respond to the local context. 

Woman of the Year

A leader for all rural women in Colombia

When Lizette Del Valle moved to Guamito village in the municipality of El Carmen de Bolívar 25 years ago, the many farmers wanted to create a farmers’ association, but begrudgingly accepted the participation of women. For them, women had no place making decisions about what happens in the farming fields, and their roles should be linked to the household cooking and taking care of the family. Still, Lizette would accompany her husband and attend the meetings to see exactly who knew what.

“I said, ‘Wow, why not involve women too? They also need support from a farmer’s association.”

A few years went by, and she had the opportunity to become the legal representative of Asopromixgua, the association. She applied and won her position.

“I ran for that position because there were many women farmers in our village, and I wanted them to have a chance to be members like the men. It was hard. Many men said that a woman could not represent an association run by men.”

Under Lizette’s leadership, she managed to get 45 women involved as members of the association. Today, Asopromixgua is dedicated to the production of the root vegetable yam. Asopromixgua is a member of the USAID-facilitated Public-Private Partnership to improve marketing and processing of yam in the Montes de María region.

With the support of USAID-funded Land for Prosperity program, Lizette also became involved in land issues and is volunteering with the Municipal Land Office in her municipality to distribute information on land formalization and women’s rights. In 2021, Lizette won the Rural Woman of the Year award, sponsored by the SHE IS Foundation and the CEA Fundación. She received a computer as a prize, which today is being used to keep the books for Asopromixgua.

“I am happy to represent all rural women, because in Colombia there are many of us women who work and live in the countryside.”

Thanks to Lizette’s involvement, Asopromixgua has exported more than 22 metric tons of yams to the United States through a commercial partner that they met thanks to the PPP. The export directly benefits 80 families in Guamito, and Lizette’s association provided employment for 16 youth to load the container.

Asopromixgua and other members of the PPP have also benefited from the production of clean, quality yam starts in laboratories with the Colinnova Program, led by Confecámaras and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. The local seed bank was able to harvest almost one ton of seeds of the hawthorn yam and diamond varieties, which will enable it to expand planting in the next cycle.

Asopromixgua exported more than 22 metric tons of yams to the United States through a commercial partner that they met thanks to the PPP.

See Lizette tell her story in this video, produced by USAID Land for Prosperity.

It’s Earth Day—Here’s Why Securing Land Rights Matters for Our Planet

By Ioana Bouvier, Senior Spatial Science and Technology Advisor, USAID DDI/EEI/LRG

Last year, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) launched its new Climate Strategy, laying out an ambitious global plan to address climate change over the next decade. Critical to this effort is inclusive, sustainable, and locally-based management of land and natural resources. Effective governance of land and natural resources helps to protect natural landscapes, conserve biodiversity, and limit carbon emissions, all of which can mitigate climate change. 

As USAID’s Land and Resource Governance (LRG) Division reflects on the climate crisis this Earth Day, we know that it’s crucial to continue using innovative, evidence-based, and context-appropriate approaches to address land-related challenges within the context of climate change. One such tool is Mapping Approaches for Securing Tenure, or MAST

MAST is a Proven Tool for Stronger Land Rights

Developed and refined by USAID and development partners over the last decade, MAST is a blend of participatory mapping methods and flexible technologies that empowers local communities to document and secure their land and resource rights. It’s transparent and gender-responsive, and evidence from the past ten years of research and implementation shows that MAST allows communities to map and document their rights more quickly and for less money than traditional means. The approach supports a range of development objectives beyond LRG, including climate mitigation and biodiversity conservation.

Through participatory mapping methods, MAST emphasizes on-the-ground engagement and training, entrusting community members as data collectors and building local government and community capacity to maintain land information and manage resources in the long term. Using the approach, individuals can systematically collect and verify information necessary to strengthen tenure security and use that information for different purposes, such as to obtain land ownership documents, to enforce community land use plans, and to access technical expertise and funding for new agriculture investments and soil conservation measures.

Mapping Land for Conservation and Climate Change Mitigation

Since 2014, MAST has evolved from an initial pilot in rural Tanzania to a multi-country approach that USAID and implementing partners have used to map and document hundreds of thousands of land parcels. It helps that MAST is “fit-for-purpose”—meaning it’s adaptable to different combinations of spatial, legal, and institutional frameworks. The approach has been adapted and deployed in Mozambique, Zambia, Liberia, Malawi, and Ghana. 

In Tanzania especially, MAST was scaled up and adapted to support food security, women’s empowerment, conflict mitigation, among other development objectives. Local land offices and development organizations are now using the approach to improve outcomes for their programs, including biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation. 

As part of USAID’s Landscape Conservation in Western Tanzania project, for example, the Jane Goodall Institute adapted MAST to document land rights and to enforce village land use plans, with the goal to conserve and improve chimpanzee habitats while empowering local communities for sustainable and participatory land and resource management. Roughly 90 percent of Tanzania’s 2,200 chimps live outside national parks and other protected areas. Their habitat is threatened by illegal logging, settlement expansion, and land conversion for agricultural or grazing purposes. In collaboration with local communities, the project is helping to develop village land use plans and document customary land rights using MAST. Through this work, MAST has provided a systematic approach to link land use planning with land documentation in an inclusive, transparent manner, with the goal to strengthen land rights and to reduce pressure on wildlife corridors and forest buffer zones. 

In southwest Tanzania, the Lawyers Environmental Action Team (LEAT), a local nonprofit, has adapted MAST for USAID’s Resilient Natural Resources Governance project. The work focuses on a biodiverse ecosystem threatened by competition between pastoralists, farmers, miners, and loggers. LEAT is helping to build local capacity to govern and conserve land, wildlife, forests, and water resources. The project is using MAST to develop sustainable land use plans, enforce these plans through customary land documentation, and to develop long-term village-level strategies for more sustainable resource management.

Elsewhere, in Zambia, USAID’s Integrated Land and Resource Governance program used MAST to map nearly 40,000 customary land parcels in over 900 villages, documenting customary land rights of over 163,000 people. Here, the MAST approach helped harmonize chiefdom and community boundaries, and implementers worked with government officials, traditional leaders, and civil society to customize MAST for local use. The project used MAST participatory methods to help develop chiefdom plans, to resolve land disputes, to empower women and youth as local leaders, and to help improve biodiversity conservation and wildlife planning.

We’ve Updated Our Learnings from a Decade of MAST

USAID and our partners have been using MAST for nearly a decade. In that time, we’ve honed the approach, learned lessons from implementation, and discovered a number of cross-sectoral use cases. To better reflect our growing body of work, we recently refreshed the MAST Learning Platform on the LRG Division’s LandLinks website. By combining in-country evidence and examples—from Tanzania, Zambia, and other countries—the learning platform clarifies the value of and opportunities to use MAST in pursuit of improved natural resource management, biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation, and other non-land development objectives.

Earth Day reminds us that climate change is an existential global challenge. Effective land and resource governance is a powerful solution for addressing negative climate impacts. USAID’s MAST is a proven, adaptable, and efficient approach for not only strengthening inclusive land and resource rights but also for managing our natural resources and conserving biodiversity in pursuit of better protecting our planet.

¹MAST was previously known as “Mobile Applications to Secure Tenure.”

#LandMatters Newsletter February 2023

Dear Readers,

In this month of February, I am happy to share with you the USAID Land and Resource Governance (LRG) Division’s newsletter. In December 2022, we celebrated International Human Rights Day and last month we hosted an online panel webinar event to draw attention to the work of environmental defenders and the enormous threats that they face. According to Global Witness, an environmental defender has been killed every two days on average over the past decade, while many more are harassed, intimidated, criminalized and forced from their lands. In this newsletter, you can access an online recording of our event and read a special op-ed published by USAID Chief Climate Officer Gillian Caldwell. We have also included updates from our work supporting women’s land rights and other highlights. I hope that you enjoy reading about recent achievements in the LRG sector.


Stephen Brooks
Division Lead, USAID Land and Resource Governance Division

Supporting Environmental Defenders

Members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) celebrate after David Castillo, president of Desarrollos Energeticos S.A (DESA), was found guilty in the murder of Honduran environmentalist and indigenous leader Berta Caceres, in Tegucigalpa on July 5, 2021. Orlando SIERRA / AFP

Online panel webinar: Standing with Environmental Defenders Under Threat
On January 19th, 2023, USAID hosted an online panel to discuss the threats facing environmental defenders as they fight against negative climate impacts and biodiversity loss and identified potential solutions to help mitigate these multiple challenges. This event was the kick-off of the year-long “Frontiers” event series, which explores the interface of conflict, climate change, and governance of land and natural resources. The series is hosted by USAID’s Center for Conflict and Violence Prevention and USAID’s Land and Resource Governance Division in partnership with New America.

Standing with Environmental Defenders Under Threat
This op-ed was published by USAID Chief Climate Officer Gillian Caldwell. Environmental defenders are on the frontlines of ecological and social justice. They can be members of local communities, conservation and forest monitors, environmental activists, human rights advocates, religious leaders, journalists, lawyers, or youth leaders. Given the critical and gravely dangerous work that environmental defenders undertake, USAID and other multilateral and donor organizations must do more to support them.

Strengthening Women’s Land Rights

Photo credit: Vaishnavi Suresh, Gap Inc. for USAID
Photo credit: Vaishnavi Suresh, Gap Inc. for USAID

Gender Equality and Climate Finance Technical Brief
Climate finance offers a pathway to achieve equitable climate action and support a transition to a low-carbon future. Yet, most climate finance to date has been gender-neutral, failing to capture the specific roles and needs of women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals in achieving climate goals. This brief explores how to overcome barriers to promoting gender-responsive climate finance, and provides recommendations for interventions.

Addressing Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Through Land and Property Rights
This document describes why USAID’s land and property rights programs should integrate programming to address gender-based violence (GBV) and details specific strategies for doing so. Program examples are provided to illustrate how the strategies can be incorporated into programs in crisis and conflict settings, and links to tools and resources are provided for additional information.
More blogs and related resources can be found on the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment page on

New Research and Resources Available

Land Tenure and Resource Governance Capacity Assessment Framework
ILRG has developed a capacity assessment framework (CAF) focused on land tenure and resource governance. The CAF documents and measures the progress of capacity-building activities toward enabling improved land and resource governance capacity development outcomes.The framework and tool were designed primarily for use by USAID-funded projects, though it may be of interest to additional users such as other funders or implementers of land and resource governance-related activities.

Land Documentation for Financial Inclusion Brief
This brief documents and shares experiences expanding access to weather index insurance and microfinance in Zambia as part of a pilot program developed by ILRG. The program collaborated with financial service providers, insurance agencies, and agricultural input companies to deliver services to stakeholders with customary land certificates. The brief highlights the opportunities and challenges of expanding financial inclusion in underserved rural areas in Zambia.

New Green Energy Minerals Page
This new issue page on LandLinks provides a hub for background information and resources related to USAID’s work on the green energy transition. Our energy future depends on securing reliable global mineral supply chains, and key minerals used in green energy are mined around the world, including across 70 countries where USAID works. This page will continue to be developed as USAID’s work in this area expands.

USAID Land Project Highlights

men and women look at land map

USAID’s Integrated Land and Resource Governance program is a flexible field support mechanism that works with USAID Missions to provide both short- and long-term assistance. Read their most recent publications:

Quote from the field: “Marriage and family are a sacred thing, we both had to come together to see for ourselves the outcome of what we had registered. My wife and I love each other and I always want her to be part of and knowledgeable about everything happening around the family including all the land we own.” – Shadreck Kasamba, 65, and his wife Lozaria Zakeyo, 62, jointly registered their two parcels under a customary land documentation pilot in Malawi supported by the Government of Malawi and USAID. Shadreck and Lozaria came to check their parcel information together during the public display period, when community members can review parcel maps and make any corrections before land certificates are issued.


USAID’s Integrated Natural Resource Management activity provides on-demand support services and technical assistance for USAID Missions, Bureaus, and Independent Offices across a wide array of environmental and natural resource management issues, with a focus on gender equality and social inclusion.

Recent publications include:

Quote from the field: “I never knew anything about land documentation, but my family has had an issue with our land. After I attended the land literacy training, we discussed it, and I showed my family how we could solve the issue. I then sent my son to the land office in the nearby town with the proper documents. Our issue is now resolved, which is a big relief.” – Salema Begam attended land literacy training under a USAID-PepsiCo partnership to empower women in PepsiCo’s potato supply chain in West Bengal, India. The training helps educate women on land laws and walks them through the process to update their land records.

USAID/Colombia’s Land for Prosperity Activity supports the Government of Colombia in improving the conditions of rural households to achieve licit economic development through land tenure strengthening.
Read more in some of their recent blog posts:

Quote from the field: “I’ve never had an opportunity to participate in an activity like this before because I’m a visually impaired person. When I heard that they were sensitizing leaders and community members about the involvement of people with disabilities I felt alive, because in our society we are not valued. Today I say yes, I am useful in the community.” – Hortêncio Jorge, a 21 year old young man from Alto Molocué, Mozambique, who recently participated in a training on how to manage an eucalyptus forest plantation. The plantation was transferred to the community as part of a land divestment initiative by company Green Resources with USAID support.


#LandMatters Newsletter November 2022

Dear Readers,

I am excited to share the USAID Land and Resource Governance (LRG) Division’s November 2022 newsletter, which showcases recent highlights from LRG programming across USAID. Last month we commemorated the International Day of Rural Women 2022 with a blog post about how our programming through the Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) program is strengthening women’s land rights in six countries. We also featured a blog about promoting gender-responsive land documentation in Malawi, and are pleased to highlight  a new toolkit that we developed to assist programming focused on reducing land-related conflict. These are just some examples of the many highlights featured below– thank you for your interest in our work!


Stephen Brooks
Division Lead, USAID Land and Resource Governance Division

New Resources Available

In Tanzania, USAID implemented Mobile Applications to Secure Tenure (MAST), the collaborative, participatory approach that builds sustainable local capacity to efficiently map resource rights and secure land tenure, in rural areas to lower the cost and time associated with mapping and registering customary land. Through the Land Tenure Assistance (LTA) Activity, USAID helped deliver nearly 100,000 customary land documents across Tanzania between 2016 and 2021. This infographic highlights the cross-sectoral achievements of MAST in Tanzania, including reduced concerns about future land boundary disputes and land expropriation. In addition to Tanzania, MAST has been used with great success in a number of countries, including Burkina Faso and Zambia. To learn more about MAST and its many applications to address persistent development issues, please visit:

Land & Conflict: A Toolkit for Intervention 2.0. This new second installment of the Land & Conflict Toolkit is designed to introduce readers to the complex relationship between land and violent conflict, including a focus on key issues around gender equality and social inclusion, and to provide guidance on recommended approaches and actions to address some of the root causes of conflict. This understanding can help staff diagnose a problem, support strategic planning, and develop projects and activities that build on a robust appraisal of local context and conditions.

Conducting Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) to Evaluate the Impact of Land & Resource Governance Sector Interventions – Strengths, Practical Challenges, and Best Practice Guidance
Among the different types of evaluation and learning approaches, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are often seen as an especially useful impact evaluation tool for evidence-based learning. However, RCTs to assess the impacts of land and resource governance interventions, and of land sector programming in general, have been very uncommon. This report seeks to help demystify RCTs for land sector programming, discuss some of the challenges and potential solutions for implementing LRG RCTs, and ultimately serve as a resource document that can help USAID to make informed decisions about whether, when, why, and how to engage in supporting an RCT of a land sector intervention.

Research Brief: Leveraging Formal Land Rights for Credit Access This brief sheds light on an enduring development question—if formalization of rural land rights does not significantly unlock formal credit through collateralizing land, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa as theorized, are there alternative mechanisms by which formalization can improve credit access? After reviewing evidence for the collateral pathway, the brief summarizes emerging evidence on three alternative pathways and outlines evidence gaps to close and steps tenure programs can take to create an enabling environment for the pathways to function.

USAID Land Project Highlights

USAID’s Integrated Land and Resource Governance program is a flexible field support mechanism that works with USAID Missions to provide both short- and long-term assistance. Read their most recent publications:

Quote from the field: “As a member of the Customary Land Committee, I felt happy when I helped a woman register land with her husband. She was upset for not being included in the certificate, but after my explanation of the benefits of joint registration, the husband added her. I saw that I can make a difference in my community.” – Tamara Chidambo was elected a CLC members in Malanda village, Malawi, where USAID is working with the Government of Malawi to register customary land.

USAID/Colombia’s Land for Prosperity Activity supports the Government of Colombia in improving the conditions of rural households to achieve licit economic development through land tenure strengthening.
Read more in some of their recent blog posts:

Quote from the field: “This is my land. I got the land certificate for the sake of my children. Tomorrow when I am not here, nobody will take it from them.” – Vainess Ngoma, 87 years old, from Muluso village, Zambia, registered two parcels of 1.4 and 1.8 hectares with USAID support.

USAID’s Integrated Natural Resource Management activity provides on-demand support services and technical assistance for USAID Missions, Bureaus, and Independent Offices across a wide array of environmental and natural resource management issues, with a focus on gender equality and social inclusion.

Recent publications include:

Three Key Takeaways on Gender and Mining in Colombia

By Smita Malpani, Rhiannon Gulick, Anthony Flowe, INRM

In Colombia, most artisanal miners who mine for gold in the informal sector are women. They work both as machadoras, who sift through mine tailings for gold, and barequas, who pan for gold in rivers. These types of artisanal mining are the least lucrative and most dangerous in Colombia. 

The USAID-funded Mining Horizon project builds on previous USAID-supported work to strengthen governance in the mining sector and mitigate negative environmental impacts from gold mining. Because most miners in the informal sector are women, the project included and prioritized various gender activities that aimed to create a safe, equitable, and profitable future for women miners in Colombia.

Mining Horizon’s work on gender and mining has yielded important insights on gender and ASM gold mining in Colombia.

Women’s burden of work and lack of childcare have implications for formalization

To make up for limited income from artisanal mining, women often engage in multiple livelihood strategies, such as food preparation or other services near mining sites. They work double shifts to mine and then to do household and domestic work to care for their families. Men, due to social norms, do not have the same level of household and care duties. These multiple livelihood strategies add to women’s heavy burden of work.

Relatedly, Mining Horizon has found that a lack of child care limits women’s ability to become miners in the formal sector.  Informal women miners who juggle work and care responsibilities often bring their children to mining sites and  keep them in a makeshift enclosure to watch as they work However, government regulations for formal mining prohibit children from being at mining sites. Without child care, most women artisanal miners know they would not be able to comply with formal regulations for mining and do not see it as a viable option.

Mining Horizon’s experience shows that women’s care responsibilities and multiple livelihood strategies limit their ability to access higher and more stable income through formalization. Formalization, though it likely leads to higher and more stable income for miners, is a complicated and time-consuming process. Since women’s domestic responsibilities and heavy burdens of work constrain their time more than men, women may be less likely than men to attempt to achieve formalization. 

To help address this challenge, future mining activities can explore multi-sectoral approaches including child care, women’s community-building efforts, and financial inclusion strategies such as village savings and loan associations (VSLAs). Future programs may also consider how to address women’s burden of work and the implications of that burden for formalization.

Antioquia women miners formalization session, photo by CORCRESER
Woman gold miner standing in a stream holding a round, wooden panning bowl used for panning gold.
Artisanal gold miner in Colombia, photo by CORCRESER

Persistent myths limit women’s access to mines, and the options left to them pose distinct health and safety challenges

In Chocó, Mining Horizon’s experience confirmed what has been reported in other parts of Colombia. Women are unable to gain access to mines because of persistent myths about gold veins and deposits disappearing if a menstruating woman enters a mine. Consequently, women are relegated to the outskirts of mines and left to sift through mine tailings and waste to search for gold. For access to mine tailings, women must negotiate with male mine owners, and they often face discrimination from the owners, who may set aside higher yielding tailings for men.

Mining Horizon found that women’s participation varied between artisanal and small-scale mining, posing distinct gendered challenges. For example, women make up most of artisanal miners, working as both machadoras and barequas. Although both machadoras and barequas face gender related challenges, those challenges are specific to the type of mining.

Machadoras must negotiate with male mine owners for access to tailings and might not have access to the most fruitful material. Women are less likely than men to be able to enter and work in mines due to social norms and persistent myths discussed above.

Barequas work in dangerous conditions, sometimes hip-deep in water while vulnerable to infectious disease, snakes, or other hazards. Barequas may also face specific health impacts from working in the water. For example, they may lack adequate menstrual hygiene options, and have reported vaginal infections and other negative health impacts incurred as a result of mining. 

Future ASM programs may consider opportunities to document harmful myths about menstruation and mining to help dispel these myths. Furthermore, refining gender-disaggregated data collection to capture intersectional identities can also help tease out the challenges faced by specific populations. 

Woman gold miner in blue uniform standing in front of mining equipment in a mining area on a rocky shore in a rainforest in Antioquía, Colombia.
Minera en Antioquía, photo by CORCRESER

Movement-building works to empower women

Although Mining Horizon did not work in areas where women’s mining associations had been formed, the project did work at the national level with women’s mining associations from other areas of Colombia. These associations, supported by the MIT-D Lab under the USAID Resilient, Inclusive and Sustainable Environments (RISE) Challenge, have empowered women to advocate for recognition and collectively address a range of issues from gender-based violence to environmental degradation. 

To continue this momentum, future programming can build on USAID’s work supporting women’s associations. The upscaling of women’s mining associations and their federation nationally may help to amplify women’s efforts and empower them to advocate collectively.

Artisanal and small-scale mining in Colombia

Most mining in Colombia is artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM). ASM is informal mining conducted by individuals, groups, families, or cooperatives who use rudimentary processes to extract minerals or gems, often with no or very little mechanization — and it is an important part of livelihood strategies for the poor in some rural areas. Because ASM miners are concentrated in the unregulated, informal sector, lack of access to credit and appropriate technologies underlie mining practices that are detrimental to miners, local communities, and the environment.  ASM techniques for gold are especially concerning because they often rely on mercury to extract ore from mine tailings and sediments. Mercury has documented negative health and environmental impacts.

Where Rural Transformation Begins with Land Titles

With USAID support, the Colombian government has begun delivering land titles as part of a far-reaching project to transform the territory

When María Eugenia Ruiz stepped up to receive the title to her property and home, she had the chance to tell the audience about the hardships she has endured with owning land in an informal land market.

“To be honest, I have just a little house made of boards,” said Ruiz, 55. “But some time ago, a lady sent me to say, ‘Maria, don’t do anything with this house, you don’t live there, because that house is mine.'”

With relief, she said she could finally say goodbye to the permanent anguish she felt about losing the land her mother had left her and where she has lived for more than twenty years.

As she told the story of the fear and anguish she suffered, her face darkened, and without a hint of shyness she continued.

María Eugenia Ruiz, small woman with a strong voice.

“I told her, this little house, this ranchito, is mine. It was left to me by my mother, I live here by myself, and God gives me the blessing.”

Maria certainly had reasons to be distressed. Neither she nor her mother ever obtained a deed or registered land title for the property. This year, Ruíz and 45 other families finally put their worries to rest after receiving a registered land title from the government. In February, the National Land Agency (ANT) delivered the first property titles stemming from a series of 11 USAID-supported parcel sweeps across Colombia.

In addition to the delivery of the initial 46 properties deeds, the Mayor’s Office of Cáceres received 22 property titles for schools, an important step to enable the regional government to funnel public funds to improve education services that have long been neglected. In Cáceres, an estimated seven of every ten properties lack a registered land title.

The land titles represent the first of an estimated 11,000 parcels that are being formalized under the property sweeps, a massive initiative to strengthen land tenure in Colombia by updating the rural cadaster and delivering registered property titles to their rightful owners, free of charge.

Cáceres, Antioquia has a population of 29,000 and is the largest municipality in the Bajo Cauca sub-region. Right: a typical ranchito in rural Cáceres.

“We are happy with these property titles for our schools and for these 46 families. We are betting that the parcel sweep and improved land administration will generate well-being and equity for our people.”

-Juan Carlos Rodríguez, Mayor of Cáceres

The parcel sweep method was designed by USAID with input from Colombia’s land administration authorities such as the National Land Agency (ANT), among others. Historically, the burden of formalizing a property in rural Colombia has always been on the landowner, costing enough money and time to marginalize poor landowners. Now, government-led property sweeps involve the participation of a Municipal Land Office and social leaders who help communities resolve land conflicts.

The massive formalization of land through parcel sweeps arose from the need to comply with the first point of the 2016 Peace Accords, which seek to formalize land for rural citizens and invest in the transformation of 170 prioritized municipalities identified for being the most affected by the armed conflict.

Scenes from USAID-supported parcel sweeps around Colombia.

In order to create a functioning land market, USAID is strengthening the government’s capacity to maintain formality in future land transactions and raising awareness among communities to nurture a culture of formal land ownership. The initiative requires the participation of the government, civil society, and international development.

Transforming Lives

“Titling means transforming and transforming means improving the quality of life. A land title gives families certainty that this is their property. It gives them the possibility to go to a financial institution. It makes it possible for them to carry out an agricultural project on titled land.”

-Gerardo Vega, Director of the National Land Agency

3T: Titles, Transition, Transformation

Due to the massive formalization campaign, Cáceres has become the epicenter of the implementation of an innovative strategy known as the 3T Strategy, which seeks to substitute illicit crops like coca by giving landowners titles to their lands. The strategy, supported by Colombia’s Ministry of Justice in partnership with USAID, also provides families with a food assistance plan, and makes investments in agricultural and small infrastructure projects that help catalyze the transformation of rural communities.

“We cannot only think about titling, we have to go further by supporting these families with viable projects in strategic value chains and with other small infrastructure investments,” said Rodríguez, the mayor of Cáceres. “Cáceres which is a municipality that has suffered from violence and illicit crops, and we want people to feel accompanied by all our government has to offer and more.”

Nationally, USAID is supporting 11 land titling campaigns, six that are already under implementation and five more that are expected to start up in 2023. Each depends on a variety of factors, and it is expected that by 2025, the government will have updated more than 115,000 parcels of the national cadaster, with the potential to deliver up to 40,000 land titles.

“We are working not necessarily from a security approach, but from a human rights approach. And human rights mean dignifying life and delivering property titles, as we are doing here in Cáceres.”

-Gloria Miranda, Director of Drug Policy Colombia’s Ministry of Justice.