Pathways Partnerships for Land Tenure Security

Although women comprise greater than 40% of the agriculture labor force globally, gender inequality in access to inputs and productive assets limits their productivity and efficiency. FAO estimates that if women only had equal access to productive inputs as men, they could increase their production on their plots by 20% to 30%.[1]

Land is the fundamental farming resource and the most crucial asset for households that depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihoods. Ownership or control of land is also where we see the greatest gender disparity in access to agriculture assets. Fewer than 15% of all agriculture holders (that is, persons who manage or control a land plot) in Sub-Saharan Africa are women, while in some parts of North Africa and West Asia, this figure is closer to 5% (FAO, 2011). Men are not only significantly more likely to own property, but their land holdings tend to be significantly larger than women’s, and the land that women can access (through rental or family allocation) tends to be of poorer quality.

Women’s land tenure security (or the bundle of rights related to the rental, purchase, inheritance of land, the ability to control income or crops from the land) is compromised by a number of barriers, both legal and informal. While land laws, inheritance systems, and customary rules around land ownership vary widely, rural women generally access land through relationships and are allocated plots by family members. Their land-tenure rights tend to change according to changes in family status (marriage, widowhood), and so are significantly dependent on the quality of intra-household relationships. They have few protections in the event of family breakdown or abandonment.

Poor land tenure security has implications for productivity and food security. Without guaranteed access to land over multiple growing seasons, women may be less motivated to adopt certain improved agriculture or soil management practices, which in turn limits yields over time and compromises household food security. Land titles are often required as collateral for obtaining credit, which enable women to invest in and expand their agriculture enterprises. Land tenure security also has critical implications for women’s empowerment. Women’s land ownership and control increases their bargaining power within the household and provides security in the event of family breakdown.  

Strengthening women’s land access and control is crucial to Pathways goal of creating more equitable agriculture systems at scale. However, CARE recognizes that this is a long-term process that requires tackling legal and customary structures as well as entrenched cultural beliefs and household-level practices. 

To build technical expertise and generate learning around this fundamental issue, CARE’s Pathways Program has teamed up with Landesa, a US-based organization that is also a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded grantee. Landesa aims to secure land tenure for the world’s poorest people. Because women make up the majority of the world’s poor, and because they provide much of the unrecognized labor in agriculture production, the organization focuses much of its on women’s land rights in particular, making it a natural and fitting technical partner for CARE and for the Pathways Program. In August, Elisa Scalise, Director of Landesa’s Center for Women’s Land Rights, and Renee Giovarelli, Senior Advisor at the Center presented a short workshop on land tenure security to the Pathways Gender Working Group, allowing participants from all Pathways countries to share their own challenges and questions.

CARE and Landesa have signed two MOUs—with CARE Tanzania and CARE India, and are in discussion to extend further support to other Pathways countries. In Tanzania, an initial assessment was completed in April 2013. In follow-up to this assessment, Landesa recommended an implementation strategy that focuses on 1) training community-based paralegals on land-rights and building capacity of leaders on Land laws and building skills on advocacy and 2) raising land land-rights awareness throughout the community, through integrated communications activities (community theater, poster contests) that are tailored to specific target groups.

The final agreement has been signed with CARE India was signed at the end of November, with implementation started from December. In CARE India, the partnership will have a two-pronged approach, focused on 1) raising women’s land literacy, and 2) a pilot program that aims to support a number of women and women’s groups in the process of making legal claims for access to revenue land. You can read a blog-post about India’s agreement here

In addition to this partnership with Landesa, CARE is currently working in partnership with scholars at Yale University to analyze data from the Pathways baseline. One of the initial studies is examining the correlations between women’s land ownership or control and their influence over a number of agriculture- and non-agriculture-related decisions. The paper will be published in 2014.  
Securing land will continue to be a programmatic challenge and learning opportunity for the Pathways Country teams. The Pathways team is doing its part to raise awareness about the challenges to the broader development community, through contributions to the new online Focus on Land online journal, which is supported by Landesa. The program manager of Mali has contributed a commentary to the first online edition, which can be read here. Stay tuned for a subsequent submission by the Ghana country office.

 Contributor: Emily Hillenbrand


[1] FAO. (2011). The State of Food and Agriculture (2010-2011). Available from