The Berlin-based think tank for sustainability TMG (Töpfer – Müller – Gassner) Research gGmbH is working on various sustainability challenges across the globe, including securing land access for women farmers. Together with its partners, TMG’s project known as Soil Protection and Rehabilitation for Food Security looks at the consequences of unequal land access on food security and soil health in rural farming communities. Food Tank had the chance to speak to Larissa Stiem-Bhatia, project coordinator for TMG, about the think tank’s work in Kenya and Burkina Faso.
“When farmers are in fear of losing their land, they have less incentive to invest and sustainably manage the land and its soil. This especially affects women and youth,” Stiem-Bhatia tells Food Tank. “From that perspective, we decided to do something about it and work on insecure land access, particularly on how it affects women.”
In Kenya and Burkina Faso, accessing land for agriculture can be a major challenge for women due to poor governance and gender inequality. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, women in many African countries make up nearly 60 percent of the family farming labor force, yet are often unrepresented in the legal process of securing land ownership. This makes some women farmers susceptible to losing the legal rights to their agricultural enterprise. Improving these rights may be critical not only for curbing hunger, but also for investments in better soil management practices.
TMG’s research in Kakamega County, Kenya found that at least 38 percent of rural households depend on leasing land to supplement their food and financial needs. “Even where land is available, the distribution is unequal between family members due to customary inheritance laws that favor male household heads. Consequently, women and youths are disadvantaged,” Stiem-Bhatia tells Food Tank.
TMG’s partner in Kenya, Shibuye Community Health Workers, consults with the formal sector to ensure that a more community-driven approach towards land leasing can be negotiated, adopted, and then supported by law. Doing so helps women in the area resist shocks and allows them to safely and sustainably invest in healthy soils. As of March 2019, this approach has reduced many leasing conflicts and is improving long-term access to land for landless farmers.
In Burkina Faso, men and women have equal rights to land, but because of weak land governance, only 112 of the 351 districts have started to implement the law. Regardless of law implementation, the patriarchal head of the family still coordinates who gets which plot of land. “Finding a way to establish tenure arrangements towards more gender equality would benefit the entire household, especially the women,” Stiem-Bhatia tells Food Tank. When women within the families have more access to land, opportunities arise for subsistence farming and for growing crops to sell at local markets.
Through work with TMG’s partner GRAF (Groupe de Recherche et d’Action sur Le Foncier) and local stakeholders, families are building upon traditional land governance but now also include women in the discussion of land allocation. Progress on this front presents challenges, as changes in customs can disrupt long-held views of family power dynamics. Stiem-Bhatia tells Food Tank, “There are men who fear that by giving more rights to women in terms of land, and allowing them to manage their agricultural production independently, that they will become more autonomous.”
In the pilot village of Tiarako in Western Burkina Faso, over 200 women have secured legal access to farming fields through more equality-driven negotiations. “We have been working a lot on land rights, but this is only the first step. It is a very important step, and definitely a basic requirement for sustainable agricultural production,” Stiem-Bhatia tells Food Tank.