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Land administration for food security

The correlation between poverty and hunger is high. The ‘hotspots’ of poverty in the world are: South Asia (446 million, 47%), South East Asia and the Pacific (169 million, 17%) and Sub-Saharan Africa (298 million, 31%). This regards people living of <1 USD a day. The global trend is decreasing poverty in Asia (in 2004 33 million less than in 1990) and increasing in Africa (in 2004 50 million more than in 1990). This trend is maintained. Despite a global trend of poverty shifting towards urban areas, the incidence of poverty is still higher in rural areas, up to 2.4 – 4 times.

The UN estimates that by 2050, the world population will increase from 6 to 9.5 billion people, most of which live in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Food security for 9.5 billion people requires a 70% increase of the global food production and up to 100% more in developing countries. This is –annually- a billion tons of cereals and 200 million tons of meat additional to the production of 2005. This production growth can be realised for 80% from higher yields and increased cropping intensity and for the rest, 20%, coming from land expansion.

Some studies estimate that African agriculture produces 15% of its potential, Latin America 45%, and Asia 30-50%; Europe produces 63% of its potential.

Land remains a fundamental asset in the rural economy. Smallholders dominate the farming system. Farming on small plots is widespread, mainly for subsistence purposes.

Of the 525 million farms worldwide, 446 million have a size of less than 2 ha. These farms can be found in Asia (388 million, of which in China 193 million; India 100 million, Indonesia 17 million) and Africa (33 million, 80% of all farms at the continent).

In general farm size is declining: land fragmentation occurs because of selling plots, inheritance systems, degradation of lands, conflicts and land grabbing.

Landlessness is also persistent, especially in Asia: studies into the characteristics of the poorest and hungry reveal that the poorest in Asia are those who are landless (of all people living of < 1 USD/day in South Asia 60-80 % is landless, compared with Africa 4-60%).

To boost agricultural production two kinds of measures are considered to be necessary, namely (a) change of institutions and policies and (b) change of technical approaches.

The technical approach assumes the availability of improved crop varieties, better use of water, more use of fertilizers, better control of pests and diseases, improvement of low mechanisation, better roads, better electricity supply, improve the currently very limited technology transfer and adoption. A major problem is land degradation, which is major constraint to productivity growth and only can be reversed by appropriate use of chemical and manure amendments.

From an institutional point of view, the bottom line is that FAO observes that the lack of adequate institutions for land regulation and administration has been a major constraint to the implementation of new land policies. Especially the access to and management of land and water needs to improve markedly; the lack of clear and stable land and water rights and the weak regulations and enforcement has contributed to conflict over land access and competition for water use: in particular the inclusion of customary and traditional use rights in national legislation is urgently needed; land and water institutions can be strengthened and common property systems should be protected to provide for secure land tenure.

The expansion of land to be cultivated is problematic, because the ownership of these lands lies within the States, which are unable to distribute use rights in a transparent way and which appears to be unable to enforce property claims.

Inadequate land tenure structures are a major obstacle; long term investments have been found to be correlated to security of tenure and short term investments to insecure tenure, although land reform has not be a solution for this, as project evaluations demonstrate that land reform projects often benefitted the elites and better-off, at the expense of the poor. Customary systems of land tenure and land use ore often not legally recognised, which makes them vulnerable for grabbing by governments and local elites, reason why it is necessary to develop systems where these local rights can be secured.

The current increased investments in large scale agriculture constitute a risk for neglecting those local land rights; while meanwhile about 50-80 million ha is already transferred to large investor’s worldwide. Since local land rights often are not documented, registered or secured and governments still considers themselves as the underlying owner of land, forest, water and mineral rights, local people using these resources can be easily displaced with little or no compensation.

The FAO states that registration of land and natural resource rights is critical to providing security to rural people and to enabling them to negotiate from a better position with both investors and government. However, levels of rights registration are very low in many parts of the world, especially in Africa. At current rates of operation, such systems will take decades to cover the territory of many countries. A more immediate means to provide secure rights for smallholders would be through community land registration, whereby land is mapped and registered at the level of a village as a whole, rather than plot by plot. This allows for a far more speedy process of coverage, and under certain conditions would offer some protection from land seizure. However, this may also be vulnerable to capture by local elites given the fact that most local communities are highly differentiated along wealth, gender and ethnic lines. Thus, the security of land rights is dependant on a range of factors (beside their formulation) that bear on the governance of rights such as low-cost, easily accessible and prompt mechanisms of conflict resolution, fair and reliable enforcement, as well as the equitable distribution of benefits.

It is clear where the challenge is when it comes to cadastral GIS. The contribution of innovative land administration systems must be found in its ability to provide land information that efficiently and effectively addresses secure access to land and water resources within their own context.

This includes technical aspects such as data acquisition technology, database technology, data modeling, process design and data distribution technology, in an overall system design approach, taking into account infrastructural (SDI’s), organisational (who maintains) and financial aspects (costs).

This also includes institutional aspects, as system-performance should meet its purpose, which relate to the implementation of land management policies.

Understanding land policies includes understanding high level policy objectives (e.g. sustainable agriculture, poverty alleviation), government interventions (land tenure, land distribution, land taxation, land use regulation, land reform, land market, credit markets, investment and subsidies, management of State land, conservation of natural resources), and understanding which tools can support these government interventions (land registration, cadastral systems, non-cadastral land information systems, valuation mechanisms, land use inventories). These government interventions should relate to the principles of good governance and application of the rule of law.


  • FAO, 2011a, The State of the world’s Land and Water resources for Food and Agriculture (SOLAW), FAO flagship publication, Rome
  • FAO/CFS/HLPE, 2011, Land tenure and international investments in agriculture, Rome
  • IFPRI, 2007, The World’s Most Deprived: Characteristics and causes of extreme Poverty and Hunger, Washington