Other than labor, land is the most important factor of agricultural production. Without clearly defined rights of access to land, or land tenure, production is more difficult to carry out and incentives are weakened for long-term investments in land to raise its productivity. Land tenure also is one of the organizing pillars of rural economies and societies that helps define economic and contractual relationships, forms of cooperation, and social relationships.
Paul Munro-Faure, Paolo Groppo, Adriana Herrera and David Palmer have written persuasively about the importance of land tenure. Their perspective was that of designing and implementing rural development projects, but their observations are relevant for agricultural and food policy in general:4
In many cases, responses to concerns of environmental sustainability, social conflicts, and food security of the vulnerable are affected by land tenure and have an impact on land tenure. Failure to consider land tenure implications at
2. From A. Moulin, Les Paysans dans la Société Française de la Révolution à Nos Jours, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1988 (cited in J.-P. Platteau, Land Reform and Structural Adjustment in Sub-Saharan Africa: Controversies and Guidelines, Economic and Social Development Paper No. 107, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 1992, p. 291).
3. Abhijit V. Banerjee, 'Prospects and Strategies for Land Reform', in Annual World Bank Conference on Development Economics, 1999, B. Pleskovic and J. E. Stiglitz (Eds), The World Bank, Washington, DC, USA, 2000, p. 272.
4. Paul Munro-Faure, Paolo Groppo, Adriana Herrera and David Palmer, Land Tenure and Rural Development Projects, FAO Land Tenure Studies, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 2002, pp. 2-3 [emphasis added].
the beginning of a project is likely to result in unanticipated outcomes. This failure may lead to the project not generating an improvement. In some cases, it may even worsen the situation, for example, by inadvertently dispossessing people of their rights to land. . ..
Eradicating hunger requires increasing the entitlements to food of a person or family. The extent to which individuals and families are able to increase their entitlements depends in large part on the opportunities they have to increase access to assets. An emphasis on building people's endowments of assets brings land tenure into the picture. People who have rights to land are more able to enjoy a sustainable livelihood than those who have only partial rights of access; those who have partial rights are, in turn, better off than those who are landless.
Property rights that provide access to land, together with labor, form the most common endowments used to produce food for home consumption as well as cash crops that allow the family or individual to pay for other needs (e.g. health, education, etc.). Property rights to land are thus one of the most powerful resources available to people to increase and extend their collection of assets beyond land and labor to the full portfolio necessary for sustainable livelihoods (i.e. natural resources, social, human, and financial capital as well as physical assets).
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