Instituting landholder protections is critical in order to generate growth and security for the African people. Two presenters emphasized this point during an event on the emerging land issues in Africa hosted by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). While Professor Thomas Jayne and Karen Boudreaux focused on different aspects of the African agricultural issues, they relayed similar messages on the significance of sound policy on land rights and empowering small holders. Additionally, they discuss the issue of land constraint that includes both the restricted access and limited farming land available. While this event was centered on the issues with African agriculture, many of the conclusions and solutions drawn are also applicable to land and agricultural management processes all over the world.
Overpopulation was presented as one of the important causes of land constraints, which greatly impacts farmers’ ability to produce a surplus. Thomas Jayne of Michigan State University discussed how in some ways this a cyclical occurrence, where people start to concentrate around infrastructure, which results in the population clustering prevalent in sub Saharan Africa. Consequently, a large proportion of rural people live in densely populated areas, which then results in land pressures and constraints. Furthermore, less land is being inherited and more land is acquired through purchasing, resulting in a four fold decrease in land size between generations. This increase in land markets and shrinking sizes of farms then leads to increasing urban populations. Both paths lead to one of the central issues of today: in many areas levels of population density have reached a point where smallholder farmers experience huge disparities within their agricultural production and food security.
Karen Boudreaux, an African Tenure Land Specialist with USAID, presented a number of different solutions regarding this issue of land constraint and smallholder inequality. In her view, the crux of the problem lies not in access, but in people’s rights. As Professor Jayne mentioned, there is plenty of rural areas in Sub Saharan Africa with small populations. Boudreaux considered land constraints to exist due to corrupt policies and poor governance. This places all of the benefits from the land and all related decision-making in the hands of the government and not the community. The mounting legal difficulties and overlapping sets of laws best described as ‘legal pluralism’, allow for community members and landholders to have very little rights or safe guards. Until these challenges with rights and governance are addressed, farmers have very little incentive to improve their practices without secure claims to the subsequent benefits. As such, Boudreaux argues that food insecurity and poverty will remain until national governments create more beneficial arrangements with smallholders and African communities.
Karen Boudreaux’s closing remark captures the significance of the correct utilization of land and people’s security – “secure land rights; secure the future.” Providing people the land and protection needed will result in broad, inclusive agricultural growth, which works to improve food security and will eventually result in overall economic growth. While closely focused on how to solve African agricultural and land issues, these solutions provide great insights into issues of land access and rights elsewhere in the world.
Find video, presentations, and supplementary documents on the USAID website.