Moving beyond “zombie statistics”: land restoration and gender issues

September 30, 2015

meinzendick_ruth_0The CGIAR has pledged in its latest Strategic and Results Framework (2016-2030) to contribute to the restoration of 190 million ha of degraded land. About 3.6 billion hectares were degraded over the 1982-2006 period. Land degradation occurred in both tropical and temperate regions and in rich and poor countries. Deforestation accounted for about 33% of the degraded land area.

At this year’s Global Landscapes Forum, taking place during the COP21 in Paris, the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), the Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Food and Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) are holding a high-level discussion on gender aspects of land restoration. We asked Ruth Meinzen-Dick why this is an important issue and why it should be discussed at the GLF. Ruth Meinzen-Dick is a Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI and Coordinator of the CGIAR program on Collective Action and Property Rights (CAPRi).

Why is it important to include a gender perspective in land restoration initiatives?

Women and men bring different skills, knowledge, and assets to landscape management, and often have different priorities for what should be done. A gender perspective allows tapping into the potential contributions of both men and women. As men migrate or move into jobs that are not on farms, it becomes even more important for land restoration programs to work with women, to identify their needs, resources and constraints.

One common constraint for women is lack of secure land tenure. Secure tenure provides people with the incentive to invest in sustaining and restoring their land. Those without recognized land tenure are often excluded from programs like REDD+.

Can you explain the issue of “Zombie” statistics related to gender and land use and give some examples?

We often hear numbers like “Women only own 1% [or 2%, 5% or 10%] of the land.” These kinds of numbers that are bandied around often have little basis, and they mask the great variability of land rights for men and women.

Closer investigation of the available data on the extent of women’s and men’s reported land ownership in Africa and Asia gives a more varied picture, from 1% of the area owned by women in Nigeria, to 10% in Bangladesh, to 15% of documented land ownership held by women alone in Ethiopia, and a further 40% owned jointly by women and men. It is certainly true that women are less likely than men to own land, and many small-scale producers—men, women, and communities—do not have recognized rights to the resources they depend on for their livelihoods. We need better data on tenure, as well as better efforts to ensure that women have the legal rights to own land, that daughters can inherit land from their parents, and that women don’t lose their land in cases of widowhood or divorce.

Can you give a few examples/cases for a successful or failed integration of gender aspects in land restoration?

Even though Ethiopia implemented a highly successful reform of land rights that was gender sensitive, gender-related gaps in knowledge about the reform limited women’s adoption of both soil conservation practices and the planting of tree crops and legumes for land improvement. This suggests that securing tenure can make an important contribution to land restoration, but it’s not enough, unless women as well as men are aware of the changes.

8651759696_2c9c0fa252_zIn Vietnam, the Land Law in 2001 led to the issuance of land use certificates (LUC) that register the names of both husband and wife for married couples. This resulted in increased proportion of cultivated areas planted with more profitable crops in areas where the land allocation process has been completed. The problem is that some provinces are slow in their land allocation process, affecting many more women in terms of their access to land, credit, infrastructure and information.

Why do you bring the topic to the Global Landscapes Forum 2015?

Two main reasons for this. Firstly, we believe that if large-scale land restoration efforts are going to be sustained they have to recognize how men and women use and access land and different resources. Within the CGIAR WLE, this is a key component to their land restoration program.

The second reason is in regards to land tenure. The importance of land tenure has been raised in previous GLFs. A number of CGIAR centers are conducting research on how this plays out in practice—CIFOR and ICRAF for forested and agroforested areas, ILRI for pastoral areas, and CAPRi has been looking at this across resource sectors.

So what are your expectations?

With tenure as a major theme in this year’s GLF, we hope that there will be a stronger commitment to measures that strengthen the tenure of resource users.

With our high-level session, we hope to highlight the importance of looking beyond “household” tenure security, to make sure that women in households are also recognized as having secure land and resource rights, and the complementary resources they need to use them effectively for land restoration.


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Ruth Meinzen-Dick joined IFPRI in 1989. She is Coordinator of the CGIAR program on Collective Action and Property Rights (CAPRi). Her research deals with water resource management, land, forests, property rights, collective action, and the impact of agricultural research on poverty. She leads IFPRI’s Gender Task Force and co-leads work on strengthening women’s assets. Much of her research has been in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.