Issue Brief: Natural Climate Solutions and Land and Resource Governance

The effectiveness of tenure interventions to reduce land-based greenhouse gas emissions

A central challenge facing USAID and other stakeholders committed to climate action is how to reduce land-based greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions given that land use, including agriculture and forestry, account for almost a quarter of annual emissions globally (Seddon et al. 2020, p. 2). There are a range of potential pathways available to achieve the 1.5-degree Celsius (1.5C) target that vary in their relative reliance on fossil fuel emissions reductions, bioenergy, and carbon capture and storage technologies (e.g., long-term geological storage of CO2) (Figure 1; IPCC, 2018). However, in all scenarios, a decrease in land-based GHG emissions and support for land-based carbon removal is essential, without which we will not achieve the 1.5C target.

Climate change mitigation solutions in the agriculture, forestry, and land use (AFOLU) sector have been termed Natural Climate Solutions (NCS). NCS are a suite of protection, restoration and improved land management pathways that reduce land-based GHG emissions and increase rates of CO2 sequestration (Griscom et al. 2020, p. 2). NCS can provide up to 37 percent of the GHG mitigation needed by 2030 to stay on track for a 2-degree Celsius target (Griscom et al., 2017). This estimate does not fully account for implementation feasibility; it also estimated the potential area for natural regeneration that some criticize as too high (Seddon et al. 2020, p. 4). Because of these limitations, the 37 percent estimate is probably an upper limit for the potential contribution of NCS. Nevertheless, NCS such as avoiding deforestation and forest restoration are essential pathways for climate change mitigation.

This issue brief focuses on the two NCS pathways estimated to have the largest climate change mitigation potential globally – avoided deforestation and forest restoration – and the land and resource governance (LRG) or tenure interventions that can contribute to those two pathways. The counterfactual evidence for the impact of LRG interventions on native forest restoration is scant, although this gap is beginning to be recognized (Mansourian, 2016; McLain et al., 2021). No such counterfactual evidence was uncovered when preparing this brief and thus we focus on avoided deforestation impacts. There is a robust literature, including systematic reviews, on the biophysical determinants of native forest restoration. In particular, there are multiple reviews comparing the outcomes of more active versus more passive forms of forest restoration (e.g. Meli et al., 2017; Crouzeilles et al., 2017). Yet, sustained native forest restoration is unlikely to occur unless the underlying human drivers of deforestation are changed. That in turn requires effective interventions, which are the event/program/package that independently brings about this desired change.

Read the full issue brief here.

Prepared by: Tim Holland, Tetra Tech (Integrated Land and Resource Governance program) and Caleb Stevens, USAID (Land and Resource Governance Division)

Brief: Gender-Based Violence in the Natural Resource Sector in Zambia

Gender-based violence (GBV) is pervasive in the natural resource sector. Commissioned by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the 2020 groundbreaking study Gender-based violence and environment linkages: the violence of inequality by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (Castañeda Camey et al., 2020) brought attention to the linkage between GBV and women’s access to and use of natural resources from forests and wildlife, as well as in conservation and anti-poaching efforts. This brief supports the growing evidence base around this link, highlighting multiple forms of GBV faced by women in natural resource governance committees and wildlife enforcement career pathways in Zambia. The goal of this brief is to raise awareness of GBV risks within the sector and identify mitigation responses by governments, civil society organizations, donors, the private sector, and communities.

The natural resource space is a growing economic sector in many developing countries, but it remains largely male dominated. Yet women’s participation in natural resource governance and enforcement can lead to improved conservation and socioeconomic outcomes. As they are frequently the main people responsible for collecting water, food, and fuel for their families, women have a strong vested interest in how natural resources are managed and bring unique knowledge and perspectives. A growing body of evidence shows that women’s participation in community resource governance brings benefits not only to women, but to their families, communities, and conservation efforts more broadly (see Beaujon Marin & Kuriakose, 2017; Leisher et al., 2016; Mwangi et al., 2011; Agarwal, 2009).

Women’s participation in the natural resource sector increases their income earning potential, through formal employment or sharing benefits from commercializing resources. This in turn can increase their decision-making power in the household and lead to improved spending on education, health, and nutrition. Involving women in governance and enforcement increases the adoption of sustainable practices that decrease pressure on forests and other resources. It also enhances rule compliance and dissemination of information through women’s formal and informal networks, often influencing others in the community to follow rules, be vigilant, and report intruders. Finally, as women hold a disproportionate share of caring responsibilities, their engagement in resource management instills a conservation ethic in children, contributing towards sustainable conservation in the future.

Despite the many benefits associated with greater gender equality in community resource governance and law enforcement, women remain largely excluded. Moreover, women’s engagement in these male-dominated spaces can lead to multiple forms of GBV. The relationship between GBV and natural resources has been increasingly documented and analyzed.

Following the 2020 IUCN study, USAID continues to fund research and innovative programming to better understand and address GBV in the environmental sector. The 2020 report showed how GBV can be used as a form of socioeconomic control to maintain or promote unequal and gendered access, ownership, use and control of natural resources like forests and wildlife. A subsequent gender assessment of the wildlife sector in Zambia carried out by the USAID Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) program found that women and girls are frequently exposed to physical, psychological, economic, and sexual violence when accessing and using resources (Malasha & Duncan, 2020). As combating wildlife and forestry crime becomes increasingly militarized, women face risks of physical and sexual violence perpetrated both by enforcement officers and poachers (Castañeda Camey et al., 2020). Finally, GBV risks are particularly high in community natural resource governance structures and law enforcement that remain highly male-dominated.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is any harm or potential of harm perpetrated against a person or group on the basis of their gender or gender identity. It includes several expressions of violence such as physical, psychological, and sexual abuse; threats; coercion; arbitrary deprivation of liberty; and economic deprivation of income, property, and resources. GBV affects women and girls disproportionately and is perpetrated by individuals, groups of individuals, or institutions. This violence happens in the household, workplace, schools, streets, and any other public or private space. GBV has direct and indirect, tangible and intangible consequences for individuals, households, communities, and society, constituting a major barrier to development outcomes.

The potential for GBV related to natural resource management is particularly increased when there are environmental stressors and threats that lead to scarcity of resources, and when there is potential for economic gain – for instance through management of government and private funding (e.g., from hunting licenses) and through illegal wildlife trade. Women are often exposed to GBV risks as enforcement institutions use them in sting operations to attempt to obtain information about trespassers and poachers. Women who manage to break into the male-dominated field of wildlife or forestry enforcement are particularly at risk of experiencing GBV on the job (Castañeda Camey et al., 2020).

Women holding positions in natural resource governance and enforcement can also experience violence at the household level and in the broader community, as they are perceived to challenge gender norms about roles considered appropriate for men and women. When norms are being challenged without the engagement and sensitization of men and the broader community, it can lead to backlash. Women’s empowerment in the natural resource sector may lead to increased physical and psychological abuse as men attempt to re-establish control over natural resource management (Haberern, 2021).

As is the case in many countries, experiences of GBV are widespread in Zambia. According to the 2018 Zambia Demographic and Health Survey, 36 percent of women have experienced physical violence at least once since the age of 15 and 32 percent of ever-married women have experienced controlling behaviors by their husbands (Zambia Statistics Agency et al., 2019). Despite the adoption of the Anti-Gender-Based Violence Act in 2011, GBV is deeply rooted in wider gender inequality and remains pervasive and tolerated, especially in rural areas (Malasha & Duncan, 2020).

Despite the risks, women continue striving to enter and remain in the sector. Given how many women still want to play a role in natural resource management (and the downstream environmental and community benefits from greater women’s involvement), the USAID ILRG program has been working with stakeholders to raise awareness of and, critically, to mitigate the risks of GBV so these women can continue to be effective agents for change in their communities. Over the past several years, ILRG has been working with government institutions and a range of civil society and non-governmental organization (NGO) stakeholders to increase women’s participation in the wildlife and forest management sectors in Zambia, both as elected members of community governance committees and as wildlife enforcement officers.

ILRG used findings from the gender assessment of the wildlife sector in Zambia and the IUCN report to inform program design and generate awareness within the sector of the critical need to develop mitigation strategies to reduce GBV risks while empowering women in wildlife governance and law enforcement. In addition to raising awareness about the benefits of greater women’s participation in the natural resource sector and the risks of GBV with community members and traditional leaders, ILRG has worked to equip women with the technical and socioemotional skills to meaningfully participate in their new roles. The project has also provided newly elected male and female community governance committee members and wildlife scouts with training on gender equality and social inclusion, including a unit on GBV risks and mitigation efforts and information on GBV referral pathways.

As part of this continued follow-up and support for partner organizations and women leaders, ILRG collected qualitative data and case studies about GBV experiences from women committee members and women wildlife scouts. These were not necessarily women with whom ILRG directly worked and supported but a broader sample of women leaders working in the natural resource space. The interviews were used to inform future work on GBV and to give a snapshot of sector-wide dynamics, both within and outside of ILRG-supported engagements. This continued collection and analysis of evidence on the relationship between women’s participation in the natural resource sector and GBV is critical to further advance stakeholder awareness, inform GBV-responsive programming, and draw lessons learned and best practices that can be applied in Zambia and other countries.

The brief identifies the forms of GBV faced by women in wildlife community governance roles and in wildlife law enforcement, describing how violence occurs both in private and public spaces, perpetrated by different people and institutions. These stories illustrate the inherent challenges that come with women entering traditionally male-dominated spaces, and the backlash they sometimes face within the household, community, and institutions. The brief also describes how the USAID ILRG program has worked to mitigate these GBV risks while empowering women to take on leadership positions in natural resource governance (throughout the brief and in the conclusions and recommendations at the end). The findings have helped inform further ILRG program adaptation and recommendations for donors and agencies working to promote women’s participation in the natural resources space, highlighted in the final section of this brief.

The individuals mentioned have given their consent to have their stories shared; their names and other potentially identifying information have been omitted/changed for their privacy and safety. The photograph used does not depict any of the women or specific events described in the document.

Brief: Women’s Land Rights and Economic Empowerment in Cocoa Communities in Ghana – Gender Assessment

Due to its commercial value, cocoa is considered a man’s crop and gender inequality is pervasive in the cocoa sector. Indeed, although women are involved in nearly all activities of cocoa production in Ghana, their role and contributions remain unseen, undervalued, and often unpaid. This is caused by a combination of unequal access to productive resources, unbalanced power relationships, and harmful gender norms. Land ownership is a key factor. Because women typically do not own or lease land on their own, they are often not perceived as farmers by themselves or others and have low representation in cocoa producer groups, which are an important vehicle for receiving inputs, extension services, financial services, and technology. However it was found that when women are allocated a parcel of land to control and manage, they recognize themselves as farmers, as do others. Women also have little to no involvement in the sale of cocoa and limited decision-making power over use of income from cocoa production. Evidence from other women’s empowerment initiatives has shown that empowering women in the cocoa value chain leads to increased productivity and benefits to their households.

To address these barriers, USAID is working with Ecom Agroindustrial Corp. (ECOM), a global commodity trading and processing company specialized in coffee, cocoa, and cotton, as well as brands who buy cocoa from ECOM such as Hershey, to strengthen women’s land rights and economically empower women in the cocoa value chain in Ghana. Implemented by the Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) program, the two-year activity will engage both the sustainability and commercial branches of ECOM to integrate gender equality into its standard business operations and core training programs offered to farmers. This will provide ECOM with the knowledge, resources, and best practices to work with community members to empower women in Ghana and potentially more broadly in West Africa. This work could ultimately scale benefits to nearly 1 million farmers: 120,000 cocoa farmers ECOM engages with in Ghana and over 800,000 in Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria.

An initial gender assessment was carried out between November 2020 and March 2021 to provide a better understanding of the barriers and opportunities for gender equality, social inclusion, and women’s economic empowerment in the cocoa value chain in Ghana, particularly focused on ECOM’s current practices and capacity regarding gender equality and women’s empowerment, women’s access to productive resources in target cocoa communities, and crop diversification opportunities for women. The gender assessment included a review of existing primary and secondary data, interviews with 40 ECOM staff and local stakeholders, and focus group discussions with 122 women and men farmers in Assin Fosu and Antoakrom Districts.

This brief shares a summary of the findings and recommendations according to five domains: 1) laws, policies, regulations, and institutional practices; 2) social norms and beliefs; 3) gender roles, responsibilities, and time use; 4) access to and control over assets and resources; and 5) patterns of power and decision-making. Detailed findings and recommendations are available in the full gender assessment report.

Click here to download the full gender assessment brief.

Land and Resource Governance Overview

Strengthening land and resource governance and property rights is central to achieving and protecting broad development outcomes. Clear, secure, equitable and inclusive land rights and sound resource governance systems play an important role in addressing the climate crisis and create incentives that can enhance food security, economic growth, women’s equality and empowerment, protections for Indigenous Peoples and local communities and natural resource management.

However, a large proportion of people around the world lack secure rights over and access to the land and property on which they live. Women, youth, Indigenous Peoples and marginalized populations are especially vulnerable. They own and control less land which, in turn, limits their voice in decision-making at all levels. In many countries, rights and claims to land and natural resources are undocumented, overlapping, or unclear, which can fuel uncertainty, competition and conflict. As climate change, population growth, and other forces put pressure on increasingly scarce land and natural resources, it is especially important to support inclusive, effective land and resource governance, and bolster efforts to clarify and strengthen rights to this important asset for people around the world.

At USAID, we envision a world where women, youth, Indigenous Peoples, marginalized populations and groups living in vulnerable situations have equitable access to land and resource rights that uphold and sustain human dignity, enable sustainable economic growth and economic empowerment, strengthen food security, reduce conflict and promote peaceful and sound land use and resource governance.

Gender Norms and Women’s Land Rights Brief

How to Identify and Shift Harmful Gender Norms in the Context of Land and Natural Resources


USAID programs and Missions implement activities that improve land rights, support inclusive land and resource governance, build resilient livelihoods, and promote women’s empowerment. This brief explores the relationship between gender norms and women’s land rights, introducing key social norms concepts and tools to identify and shift harmful norms in the context of land and natural resources. The information will support USAID Missions, implementing partners, and other actors designing and implementing programs on land tenure and land-based investment to identify context-specific gender norms and design activities to shift harmful gender norms and strengthen women’s access to and control of land and resources.

Download the full brief here.

What Are Social and Gender Norms?

When we walk into a store or clinic and need to wait for service, we most likely wait in a line. There may not be a sign telling us to wait in line, but we might see others in line and believe that others expect us to follow this social norm. Social norms are the unwritten or informal rules about what is typical or appropriate in a setting. They are embedded in communities, systems, and structures and can promote equitable or harmful behaviors and practices.

A type of social norm, gender norms are unwritten rules based on biological sex and/or social perceptions of gender. As gender is itself a social construct, gender norms describe which behaviors are appropriate and which are not appropriate according to one’s gender identity and include expectations of how people of different the gender identities should relate and interact. Through power dynamics and sanctions, harmful gender norms normalize and reinforce gender inequality and can limit women’s access to resources and their decision-making power. [1]

Attitudes, Behaviors, Beliefs, and Norms

Attitudes and behaviors are individual beliefs and actions that a person has or does, which may or may not be informed by social factors. Norms are collective beliefs about what is typical and appropriate behavior for certain people in a setting. Attitudes, norms, and behaviors do not always align. For example, a woman may have a personal belief that domestic partners or spouses should share household responsibilities, but the norm in her community might be that men should not engage in such tasks. She therefore may feel pressured to take on most of the household work and childcare.

Download the full brief here to view a table of key definitions.

Identifying, Exploring, and Monitoring Shifts in Gender Norms

Several tools have been developed to support program implementers to identify social and gender norms, design norms-shifting activities, and monitor shifts in norms.[2] As gender norms vary across communities and cultures, exploring these norms is usually best done before an activity or project begins. This way, findings can be used to better understand the context and to inform strategies that could help shift norms and develop appropriate indicators for monitoring and evaluation. Figure 1 describes steps of the process to identify gender norms, analyze information, apply findings to inform programming, and monitor shifts in norms. Since shifting gender norms takes time and action at different levels, this is an iterative and continuous process.

gender norms exploration cycle
Figure 1: Gender Norms Shifting Process

Gender Norms and Women’s Land Rights

Owning land is a powerful pathway to improving economic opportunity and livelihoods, fostering dignity and improved wellbeing, and building self-reliance in developing countries. Although women play a critical role in food production, they are less likely than men to own, inherit, and control land and natural resources, which limits their socioeconomic empowerment and increases their vulnerability to gender-based violence.[3] Inequality in the ownership, access, use, and control of land and natural resources is caused by multiple factors, including discriminatory legal and policy frameworks, male-dominated governance systems, unequal access to education and information, and harmful gender norms related to men’s and women’s public and private roles. These norms are maintained through attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, practices, and structures by those who hold power at multiple levels. Figure 2 shows how two gender norms affecting women’s land rights relate to broader gender norms, beliefs, and structural factors.

gender norms and women's land rights
Figure 2: Adapted from Margaret Greene, Rachel Marcus, Rachel George (ALIGN), Gendered Norms and Beliefs Contributing to Child Marriage

USAID Land and Resource Governance division (LRG) land projects such as Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) and Communications, Evidence and Learning (CEL) are using the concepts and frameworks described above to implement activities to shift harmful gender norms across countries at different levels and with different actors. A future brief will discuss the main gender norms related to land, natural resources, and agricultural value chains, as well as the gender norms-shifting approaches used, results, challenges, and lessons learned.


[1] Parts of this brief were adapted from USAID’s Collective Action to Reduce Gender-Based Violence (CARE-GBV), How to Identify and Advance Equitable Social Norms, May 2021.

[2] USAID-funded Passages Project and the ALIGN (Advancing Learning and Innovation on Gender Norms) Platform have developed several resources and tools to explore, shift, and monitor gender norms. A list of resources is available at the end of this brief.

[3] Gender-based violence (GBV) is any harm or potential of harm perpetrated against a person or group on the basis of gender. It encompasses many expressions of violence – whether in public or private spaces – including physical, psychological, and sexual abuse; threats; coercion; and economic deprivation of land, property, and other resources.

Gender, youth, and Land Tenure: Lessons from Zambézia, Mozambique


The United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) program improves land tenure security for women and youth as part of broad-based economic empowerment. In 2020, ILRG’s Mozambique team assessed gender and youth relationships and decision-making structures regarding land access and use in a matrilineal context in Zambézia Province. The lessons learned in the assessment help clarify how gender and age inequalities interact with the process of delimitation of land boundaries and confirmation of land rights, as well as women’s and men’s land use and tenure security. The findings presented in this brief can guide decision-makers to design appropriate gender and youth-responsive activities and materials.

The assessment involved qualitative field work in two communities in Ile District where delimitation of community and family land was supported by the Department for International Development-funded Land: Enhancing Governance for Economic Development (LEGEND) program in 2018 – 2019 and USAID’s ILRG program in 2019; both projects were implemented by Associação Rural para Ajuda Mútua (ORAM). The communities were also directly or indirectly affected by vast land concessions granted to Portucel, an international company investing in the production of timber for paper pulp and energy.

The projects supported the establishment and capacity building of community land associations, delimitation of communities, and subsequent delimitation of land parcels that had been previously acquired by families or individuals based on occupation. Together, LEGEND and ILRG helped form 25 community land associations and provided written declarations of land rights for over 13,000 family and individual parcels. Seventy percent of land titles were solely in the names of women and six percent were co-titled to a man and a woman.



Rooted in the ground: Reforming Ghana’s forest laws to incentivize cocoa-based agroforestry – Brief

The government of Ghana claims state ownership of all “naturally occurring” trees, including on land privately held under customary title. The lack of tree tenure and inability to capture economic benefits from trees is a major driver of tree loss and disincentivizes cocoa agroforestry. This brief analyzes tree tenure law and policy in Ghana, including the proposed tree registration policy and justifications for state ownership of naturally occurring trees based in the 1992 Constitution. The authors propose an alternative interpretation of the 1992 Constitution based on customary law and usage that allows devolution of all tree rights to customary landowners without a constitutional amendment and removes the need for a tree registry. Evidence from devolution of tree tenure in the Sahel and China show that devolution can lead to increased tree cover. Based on this analysis a series of recommendations on tree tenure reform are posed for government, the cocoa sector, donors, and civil society.


Ghana is the world’s second largest cocoa producer, and cocoa plays a critically important role in the economy with an estimated 30 percent of Ghana’s population dependent on cocoa for part or all their livelihoods. However, the cocoa sector is in trouble and smallholder cocoa production does not provide a reliable livelihood or ensure a healthy and sustainable ecosystem.

Traditional cocoa farms retained large shade trees which preserved many economically and environmentally important trees within the landscape. In the late 1950s the government inserted itself into the timber market and claimed rights to naturally occurring trees on cocoa farms. This led to increased timber harvesting from cocoa farms that was exacerbated in the 1980s when Ghana’s cocoa marketing board changed its policy and advocated removing shade trees and switching to more sun tolerant cocoa varieties to increase productivity. The new cocoa board policy produced short-term yield gains, but also increased susceptibility to diseases and shortened cocoa trees’ productive life. The combined pressures from forestry and cocoa led to deforestation and fragmentation of forest landscape in Ghana’s high forest zone and widespread removal of shade trees from farms. An average of 138,000 hectares of forest was lost per year from 2000 to 2015 and in 2007 it was estimated that 72 percent of cocoa farms across Ghana had “no to light” levels of shade.

The government of Ghana and cocoa industry actors acknowledge the vital role of improved cocoa production systems to mitigate and adapt to climate change, maintain biodiversity, conserve and enhance ecosystem services, and improve the livelihoods of cocoa farmers and their families. They recognize that increasing the diversity of shade tree species in Ghana’s cocoa-growing landscape is critical to improve the health and sustainability of cocoa production and diversify income and resilience for cocoa households.



Tree and land tenure nexus in Côte d’Ivoire


Côte d’Ivoire’s forests have decreased from 16 million hectares in 1900 to 7.8 million hectares in 1990 and to 3.4 million hectares in 2015 (GoCI, 2018). Today 11 percent of the country’s surface area is forested. Of the remaining forests, 39 percent are located in protected areas, 25 percent in gazetted areas (forêts classées) and 36 percent in rural areas (GoCI, 2019b). From 1990 to 2000, rural areas lost the most forest at an annual rate of 7 percent, whereas between 2000 and 2015, gazetted forests were lost the fastest at 4 percent per year (GoCI, 2019b). Today there are 387 forest logging permits covering rural and gazetted lands, though historically logging has been concentrated in rural areas (GoCI, 2019b).

Agriculture – especially cocoa – has been the primary driver of deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire in recent decades (World Bank, 2019). There are an estimated 3.5 million hectares of cocoa plantations – more than remaining forests – of which 750,000 hectares are located in gazetted areas (GoCI, 2019b). Farms are all smallholder and produce on average 40 percent of the world’s cocoa supply, with annual exports exceeding two million tons in 2018 (World Bank, 2019). A fifth of the population depends on cocoa for a living. As land availability in rural areas has diminished, farmers have moved into gazetted forests and protected areas, which today account for a quarter of national production (RFI, 2019).

Two important features differentiate Côte d’Ivoire’s tenure arrangements for cocoa compared to Ghana. First, Côte d’Ivoire’s farms have a different settlement history, with the vast majority established during migrations to forest zones by outsider ethnic groups, mainly the baoulé ethnic group as well as foreigners, mainly from Burkina Faso (OFPRA, 2017). These migrations picked up in the 1940s as part of colonial policy and administrative strategies to attract labor (USAID, 2016) but they intensified after independence to a point where migrants outnumbered locals in many areas (Ruf, 2020).

Migration in the 1970s was driven by President Houphouët Boigny’s slogan “the land is owned by whoever puts it to use” (“la terre appartient à celui qui la met en valeur”). Clearing forest helped secure access to land (Bymolt et al., 2018), and along with a government policy favoring full-sun cocoa varieties (Schulte et al., 2020), migrants had a strong incentive to clear natural forests. Customary arrangements varied and evolved, with most initially governed by the tutorat system of integrating outsiders through sharing of production and gifts with a representative of the land-owning family (Chauveau, 2007).

These arrangements became more monetized as land pressure increased (Chauveau, 2007) and in some instances transitioned to outright land sales from the 1950s (Wily, 2015) but especially the 1970s and 1980s (Chauveau, 2007). In the 1990s and 2000s, new tenure arrangements called planter-partager (plant and share) took hold whereby outsiders would clear forests and build a farm and then half of the farm would revert to the landowner upon crop maturity. The new paradigm could be explained by land-owning groups becoming more aware of the value of holding onto land while “financing” the labor needed to establish a viable plantation (Colin & Ruf, 2011). Specific tenure agreements are diverse, with as many as 15 typologies (Wily, 2015). While some of these arrangements resemble those found in Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire differs in the preponderance of migrant farmers and also the violence and politicization of cocoa belt land disputes in the 1990s and 2000s (Chauveau, 2000).

A second distinguishing feature of Côte d’Ivoire is the history of centralized state-driven approaches to land and forest management in disregard of customary practices. This has led to legal pluralism (Lamarche, 2019) and a schism between laws and what is done in practice (OFPRA, 2017). While Ghana has similar features, there is no equivalent of recognized “stool lands” in Côte d’Ivoire despite the existence of parallel customary systems. Instead the rural land law recognizes customary rights only as a temporary stepping stone towards a national titling system controlled by the central government (GoCI, 2017; OFPRA, 2017). This leads to considerable challenges in securing land tenure despite over US$100 million in donor support in recent years (Dagrou & Loroux, 2017; Wily, 2015).

Against this backdrop, the issue of tree tenure has gained increasing attention from several fronts. First, difficulties implementing tree cover and tree planting requirements under standards like the Rainforest Alliance’s Cocoa Certification Program drew attention to misaligned tenure incentives (Ruf & Varlet, 2017). Meanwhile the current government has embraced the concept of “zero-deforestation cocoa” as part of its broader commitment to increasing the country’s forest cover from 11 percent to 20 percent by 2030 (GoCI, 2018). The new forest code of 2019 explicitly addresses tree tenure for the first time and gives primacy to the underlying landowner (GoCI, 2019a). The logic underlying such reforms is as follows: just as secure land tenure is a key predictor of higher cocoa productivity (Schulte et al., 2020), secure tree tenure can incentivize agroforestry. However, as discussed in this brief, Côte d’Ivoire shows that this is not straightforward in practice.



Women’s Land Rights and Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) Overview

USAID is securing and strengthening women’s land rights across the developing world. Owning land is central to determining household income and opportunity and can provide a powerful pathway to improved wellbeing, livelihoods, and self-reliance. Although women play a critical role in food production, they are less likely than men to own and control land. Forty percent of the world’s economies limit women’s property rights, and 44 of 191 countries do not provide female and male surviving spouses with equal rights to inherit assets.

According to a 2020 global survey, one in five women feels insecure about her land and property rights, and in some regions like Sub-Saharan Africa nearly one in every two women fears losing her land in the event of divorce or death of spouse.


Ownership and control over assets that support income lie at the very heart of women’s economic empowerment and their ability to contribute to local, national, and global economies. For most women, the most valuable of these assets are the land and natural resources from which they earn a living, provide for their families, and invest in their communities. Evidence suggests that increasing women’s access to land and natural resources, and participation in agricultural value chains can have a positive impact on women’s agency, household productivity and income, responsible spending, and food security1. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, if women had the same access to productive resources as men, farm output would increase by 20 to 30 percent.

USAID’s Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) project and Land Evidence for Economic Rights, Gender and Empowerment (LEVERAGE) activity under the Communications, Evidence and Learning (CEL) project are strengthening women’s land rights and economic empowerment in countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. Improving women’s land rights is key to addressing barriers that restrict women’s ability to reach their full economic potential, while also contributing towards increasing women’s participation in the workforce and supporting to women’s entrepreneurship.


USAID’s goal is to improve women’s access to and control of land and natural resources for concrete economic, social, and political opportunities. Working with women, governments, traditional leaders, communities, and the private sector, USAID uses the following strategies:

SUPPORTING LAW AND POLICY REFORMS. Reforming legal frameworks to establish women’s rights to land and natural resources is one of the most effective ways to empower women at scale. USAID is working with governments and customary leaders at the national and local levels to adopt and implement laws and policies that promote women’s land rights. USAID is also raising awareness and providing legal literacy and access to justice for women, so they are able to access and benefit from existing rights.

GENDER INTEGRATION IN LAND DOCUMENTATION. USAID is promoting gender integration in systematic land documentation processes led by governments, civil society, or private sector actors, ensuring that women’s land rights are considered in all steps, from planning to final documentation of individual or community land. Awareness-raising and communications activities are encouraging women to register their rights. Gender integration tools and best practices will be shared with governments, international organizations, NGOs, and other donors for broader application in ongoing and future land documentation efforts.

GENDER AND SOCIAL NORMS CHANGE. USAID is providing training and promoting dialogues on harmful gender and social norms for customary leaders and communities to promote changes in gender bias that hinders women from gaining rights and control over land and natural resources. USAID is also promoting gender norms change within households to enhance women’s participation in decision-making, promote collaboration within families, and mitigate gender-based violence.

AGENCY-BASED EMPOWERMENT FOR WOMEN. USAID is providing women with the skills, knowledge, and resources to meaningfully participate in decision-making and governance related to land and natural resources and to engage in agricultural value chains. Increased agency enables women to leverage secure land rights to access financing, agricultural extension, and employment in the wildlife and forestry sectors.

PRIVATE SECTOR ENGAGEMENT. Partnerships with national and multinational companies are developing policies for gender-responsive land-based investment and business practices that reach, benefit, and empower women in different agricultural value chains. USAID is contributing to the growing evidence base on the business case for women’s economic empowerment. Including women in value chains has positive impacts not only for women, their families, and communities, but also on key business performance indicators like agricultural yield, productivity, and quality of production.

GATHERING AND DISSEMINATING EVIDENCE, BEST PRACTICES, AND LESSONS LEARNED. Extensive impact and performance evaluations of past and ongoing projects will produce a rich body of evidence to inform governments, donors, and other stakeholders in developing new policies and programs to effectively strengthen women’s rights and translate them into sustainable social and economic empowerment.