McGill Institute for Global Food Security Lecture on the Multi-Functionality of Land

Tasnim Abdi

On February 14, the McGill Institute for Global Food Security hosted the Margaret Gilliam Lecture in Food Security. The lecture was delivered by Bruce Moore, an international development advisor, civil society activist, and former United Nations Director. During his talk, Moore emphasized the multi-functionality of land and how land rights can play an important role in addressing food insecurity, particularly for small-holder farmers in low and middle-income countries.

 Source: McGill Institute for Global Food Security

Source: McGill Institute for Global Food Security

Moore began with highlighting the important role that small-holder farms play within the food system, as they grow more food per unit of land when they have access to the same resources as large farms. Globally, small-holder farmers operate more than 80% of the 500 million small farms. They also produce most of the food consumed in developing countries while contributing to poverty reduction and promoting economic development.  In addition, small farms tend to apply low-input farming practices and environmentally sustainable technologies. Small-scale farming can also improve food security. However, small-holder farmers are facing many issues that are affecting their food security. Today, small-holder farmers are some of the most undernourished people in the world and the majority of them live in absolute poverty. Despite being an integral part of the system, they tend to be neglected and live in highly remote rural communities, facing issues such as lack of access to land.  

 Source: McGill Institute for Global Food Security

Source: McGill Institute for Global Food Security

 Historically, land rights have been viewed as a means to promote social justice. In the 1970s and 1980s, there were successful efforts to transfer land to individuals who did not own land, which helped secure their land rights. In the 1990s, there were large investments made to increase the productivity of small farms. However, land rights are not “just a social issue” according to Moore; land rights have economic, environmental, political, and social dimensions. By addressing these issues individually, it is likely that there will be little-to-no effect due to the presence of competing interests. As a result, it is important to view land rights from a perspective of multi-functionality, and to consider the importance of land on various levels. For example, land tenure alone is not sufficient to be successful since small-scale farmers need to have access to inputs. In addition, investments in rural households to improve nutrition and income are also important, but they need to be followed by secure land rights and improved access to markets for small-holder farmers.

 Source: McGill Institute for Global Food Security

Source: McGill Institute for Global Food Security

During the lecture, Moore spoke about the various challenges faced by small-holder farmers involving land tenure. These challenges include insufficient access to productive assets, limited role in decision-making, and inadequate distribution of resources.  Moore also emphasized that “we have to focus on the interplay of these factors.” All of these factors, particularly secure land rights, social exclusion, decision-making, and weak public institutions, need to be tackled together in order to address land insecurity and improve the livelihoods of these farmers.

To promote access to land rights, Moore proposed several solutions: strengthen organizations in rural areas, provide security of tenure to individuals who are currently using the land, ensure informed consent, increase the allocation of financial resources for small-scale farmers, and monitor and assess compliance with global agreements.

Moore concluded the lecture by stating that “we need to give voice, visibility, and opportunity” to small-holder farmers, especially those who are the most vulnerable. It is important to provide these individuals with the opportunity to develop skills to move forward.

 

Tasnim is a nutrition student. Her interests include mobile health and the determinants of health. Through the blog, she is excited to highlight some of the great work done in the field of global health.