“Poverty is because of land”

Inadequate land tenure, inequitable institutional support and lack of access to information are particular problems for the poor.By Ma. Sn.

Poor people are powerless as a result of:

  • lack of participation in decision making;
  • poor access to information and technology;
  • unfair, inefficient administrative and judicial procedures (that are intimidating, expensive and inaccessible);
  • lack of respect for social and cultural practices and knowledge (1).

Poor people depend on natural resources and land, but they often have illdefined (or non-existent) land tenure and restricted rights to resources. Many poor people in rural areas live on land that is traditionally theirs but is not recognized as such by the state; many of the urban poor have settled in illegal slums (2).

Powerful companies are increasingly free to locate wherever they want and states frequently lay claim (through colonial law) to traditional resources; together they have forced weak rural and urban communities off the better land onto infertile land, polluted flood plains and other marginal areas. Indigenous communities, who depend heavily on access to forests and water, are particularly threatened. Once they are displaced, they cannot avoid further degrading the new land on which they find themselves (3).

The absence of rights to land, resources, information and institutional support particularly affects poor women. The customary laws of patriarchal land ownership and inheritance often require women to leave land or deny them access to resources when they are widowed or divorced (4). The lack of property rights, coupled with illiteracy, inadequate access to information and weak institutions, makes women and other marginal groups vulnerable to corruption and loan deferments.

The evidence shows that securing local community rights to land tenure and resources will encourage the sustainable use of resources. To secure those rights, they must be integrated into national and international law, environmental information needs to be freely disseminated, and local communities must be able to take part in decisions about land and resource through greater decentralization and the strengthening of local government.

Ma. Sn.

1. World Development Report 2000/2001, The World Bank, Washington DC, 2001.
2. The Jo’burg-Memo: Fairness in A Fragile World, Heinrich Böll Foundation, Berlin, 2002.
3. DFID et al., Linking Poverty Reduction and Environmental Management: Policy Challenges and Opportunities, Consultation Draft, 2002.
4. Modules on gender, population & rural development with a focus on land tenure & farming system, FAO, Rome, 1995.

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