Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

The Inseparable Relationship Between Secure Land Rights and Food Security

Djibouti, 22 October 2019 – Global hunger is on the rise again. Despite concerted efforts made, the positive trend of the last decades has reversed in recent years, and the number of people experiencing acute hunger has slowly increased. In 2018, an estimated 113 million people required urgent food assistance. Of these, approximately 27 million people lived in seven of the eight countries in the IGAD Region. The worst affected country in relative terms was South Sudan, with 59 per cent of the population requiring assistance to close food consumption gaps, reduce malnutrition and protect livelihoods. Similarly affected were rural areas in Djibouti, with 55 per cent of rural households affected by moderate and severe food insecurity.

Food insecurity is commonly linked to the concept of hunger. Moderate food insecurity implies people having irregular access to sufficient and nutritious food. Food security is achieved - according to the 1996 World Food Summit - ‘when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life’. The Sustainable Development Goal 2 aims to end hunger and achieve food security for all people at all times by 2030. Considering the recent reversed trend and current high prevalence of hunger, the achievement of SDG Goal 2 presents an immense challenge.

The recent rise in global hunger is caused by three main reasons. These are conflict, effects of the climate crisis, such as droughts and flooding, and economic slowdowns. The majority of countries in the IGAD Region are affected by at least one of these three drivers of food insecurity. Globally, South Sudan and Somalia are among those 10 countries in which conflict or insecurity were identified as the main reasons for millions of people facing acute hunger. Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda are listed among those 10 countries where climate shocks were the main cause for acute food insecurity. Moreover, 6.2 million Sudanese people were facing an acute hunger crisis due to economic shocks.

One contributing factor to food insecurity is the inequality in the distribution of assets, such as land. A lack of access to land as a productive resource leaves the poor and marginalised even more vulnerable to the effects of the main drivers of food insecurity. The securing of land rights has positive effects on achieving food security for a number of reasons.

First, land forms the very basis for the production of food, whether land serves for agricultural production or as grazing opportunity for livestock. Insecure or absent land rights can impede people’s access to, control over or use of land for food production. Secure land rights on the contrary can be an incentive to invest in land improvement to increase the production of food. Second, land ownership constitutes an asset hence a condition for accessing other productive resources, such as financial services, inputs and technology. Secure land tenure allows for increased access to government programmes and financial services for investment opportunities. Enabling people, especially women, access to credit, fertilisers and improved agricultural techniques assists with an increase in agricultural production. Thereby, the production of food and the generation of income can be increased. Third, the securing of women’s land rights in particular has a number of benefits to improve food security within a household. Women who are the owners of the land they cultivate gain improved economic status and have greater decision making power over household income. Studies have highlighted this can translate into higher household expenditure on food and better nutrition outcomes in their children. Moreover, women’s economic empowerment can increase a household’s resilience to absorb shocks, whether these are economic shocks, such as hikes in food prices, or natural disasters, such as droughts or floods.

On a global scale, East Africa accounts for the highest number of people experiencing acute food insecurity. Furthermore, it has the highest prevalence of undernourishment (31.4%) on the continent. Systematic approaches are required to tackle the issue of food insecurity and hunger in the IGAD Region. The securing of land tenure, especially of women, presents one sustainable and effective approach to achieve this – a goal at the forefront of the IGAD Land Governance Project.

Author: Simone Zurschmitten