Woman with sheep on the Turkish countryside. It's very important to ensure the local users’ land rights.
Photo: Scott Wallace/World Bank
Natural resource management
People who live in poverty often depend on arable land, forests, fishing-waters and pastures for their livelihood. But without formal rights, their living conditions are extremely insecure. This is why Sida and Sweden are working to improve vulnerable people’s access to natural resources.
Local use of natural resources is not only important for people's food supply. The sale of any surplus gives an income that allows people to buy goods they cannot produce themselves, which may also contribute to economic development and poverty reduction. In addition, it is important to promote sustainable use of natural resources. One way to do that is to ensure that the local population is not only given the opportunity to manage, but also have secure access to resources through formal right to disposition.
A question of human rights
The opportunity to influence how agricultural land that people cultivate is used is also a matter of democratic and human rights. It is as fundamental as being able to secure food supply for the own family and society. However, by enhancing farmers' access and right to arable land is also a way of encouraging them to invest capital and improve their farming methods.
Such interventions also increase opportunities to manage resources in a sustainable way, thus securing livelihood for future generations. Our experience shows that when people are given the responsibility to independently decide how to extract natural resources, they are also better at managing them economically. It thus becomes less important whether the ownership is individual or collective.
Greater interest in land resources
There are also other reasons why Sida and Sweden support interventions that strengthen local communities’ rights to natural resources.
In a world where global competition for land resources is intensifying as a result of higher food prices and increased interest in biofuels, it is important to ascertain who actually owns the land. In many countries, the state owns forests and land although these resources are in practice used by local communities who are traditionally regarded as their rightful owners. Unclear ownership is often a reason for protracted conflicts about natural resources. It is also essential to protect women's ownership rights, an issue that Sida supports.
Sida is both supporting and cooperating with several networks, foundations and organisations that work globally with issues such as ownership and land rights. These include the International Land Coalition, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat) and the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development.
Sida also supports national reforms of land legislation in several partner countries, by e.g. helping institutions and authorities to introduce laws, guidelines and strategies, especially in Africa, where up to 90 per cent of all land lacks formal, registered owners. To produce title deeds for all lands is a costly process and something that not all countries can afford.
New international guidelines for responsible land use have been produced – guidelines that are unfortunately non-binding. The fact that Sweden has been proactive in this issue is a good starting point for further work on management of resources such as land, fishery and forestry.
Clear ownership reduces exploitation
A good example of ownership reforms in agriculture sector is found in Ethiopia, where about four million households have been able to formalise ownership of their land by receiving an ownership certificate.
In Mozambique and Tanzania, collective rights have been established for agricultural land and forests that local communities count as their own, the so-called community lands, even though these are used on an individual basis.