Land tenure

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Land tenure is a core aspect of responsible land governance, a fundamental component of sustainable land management and an essential element in addressing desertification/land degradation and drought. 


The UNCD Conference of the Parties at its fourteenth meeting (UNCCD COP14)noted the importance of addressing land tenure in the context of the Convention. With wide support from Civil society organizations, Parties to the UNCCD adopted decision 26/COP14 on land tenure, requesting the UNCCD Secretariat to focus on three directions of work: 

  • Policy: improve responsible governance of tenure throughout the implementation of the Convention and land degradation neutrality
  • Awareness-raising: increase public knowledge of responsible land governance as the key aspect of combating desertification, land degradation and drought, particularly among vulnerable populations such as indigenous peoples 
  • Reporting: improve available knowledge on the status of land governance by better capturing gender dimensions of land tenure in the UNCCD national reporting

Land and land tenure security are core to achieving sustainable development

Equal access to land and land tenure security is the key aspect of achieving inclusive sustainable development that leaves no one behind and providing multiple benefits, including poverty reduction, food security and gender equality, as well as addressing forced migration and resource conflicts.

It is estimated that 2.5 billion rural people derive their livelihoods from agriculture and natural resources. Since land forms the foundation of rural lives, tenure security often equals sustained food security, improved nutrition and predictable sources of income. Secure land rights also enable the use of land as collateral to access other opportunities, such as credit markets. Moreover, when tenure leads to increases in land investment, agricultural productivity, and food security, it removes incentives for economic migration.

Strengthening women’s land rights in particular as well as equal access to resources contribute to sustainable development by supporting gender equality, increasing food security, improving livelihoods, reducing poverty and increasing investments in sustainable land management practices. Yet, in more than half of the world’s countries laws or customs hinder women’s ownership or access to land. Evidence shows that women’s share as agricultural land holders vary from 0.8 per cent in Saudi Arabia to 51 per cent in Cabo Verde, with an overall global average estimated at 12.8 per cent.   

Land degradation and climate variations together with land tenure insecurity threaten to exacerbate resource conflicts. Good land governance can address potential conflicts before they occur and provide mediation channels after conflicts arise.

Recognizing legitimate tenure rights, including customary rights of vulnerable populations such as indigenous peoples, are crucial for maintaining peace among various groups of land users.

Legitimate tenure rights support good land stewardship 

Recognizing legitimate tenure rights for all, women and men alike, encourages good land stewardship. Improved tenure security is shown to increase investments in sustainable land management practices such as tree planting and soil conservation. Those who hold land securely are able and motivated to invest in resource conservation to support long-term health and productivity of the land without fear that it could be land can unjustly claimed or encroached upon. 

Research also shows that when women and men are given equal access to land tenure, women are particularly likely to invest in soil conservation and sustainable land management.

Land tenure terminology

Land governance is the way in which access to and control over natural resources is managed in a society. It includes policies, processes, and institutions by which land, property, natural resources and tenure are managed, including decisions on land use and management, land development, access to land, land value and land rights. Land governance can also outline mechanisms for reconciling competing priorities and interests of different land users.

Land tenure refers to the relationship among people, as individuals or groups, with respect to land. It defines the conditions under which land can be occupied, held or managed, by whom and for how long. There are different types of tenure, it may be based on written policies and laws (statutory land tenure) or on unwritten customs and practices (customary land tenure). 

Tenure security is the level of certainty that relationships and ensuing agreements within a land tenure system are upheld and recognized by others.

The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure are a set of advisory principles and internationally accepted standards for the good governance of tenure in land, forests and fisheries. The guidelines, authored by FAO, have been finalized through intergovernmental negotiations that included civil society, the private sector and research institutions.