PLAAS announces new initiative to promote women’s land and water rights in Southern Africa | Land Portal

What can be done to secure poor rural people’s rights to land and water they depend on for their livelihoods, and what must be done to ensure that women’s access and tenure is secured?

These questions are at the centre of a new multi-country action research project on Land and Water Rights in Southern Africa: Entrenching Global and Regional Policy Frameworks supported by Austrian Development Cooperation, and implemented by Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS).

This three-year study (2016-2019) will focus on Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia with a regional analysis and policy engagement component focused on the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Pan African Parliament (PAP), and other regional and international spaces where policy can be influenced.

The new project was launched at a workshop held in Cape Town, South Africa, on 6-8 April 2016. Civil society partners in the project – Zambia Land AllianceAcção Académica Para O Desenvolvimento Das Comunidades Rurais (ADECRU) in Mozambique, and Tshintsha Amakhaya in South Africa – joined PLAAS researchers to design the research, clarify research questions, develop methods and tools for field research, identify priority target audiences for policy engagement, and to select specific study sites where there is potential to learn lessons and to leverage improvements in people’s tenure situations.

Land and the water-energy-food nexus

The project is a response to dramatic changes underway in parts of Southern Africa. In several countries, a rapid shift is underway with the expansion of large-scale land investments in contexts where the economies of rural areas have been dominated by small-scale family farming. Many land-based investments in Southern Africa are motivated by an interest to secure access to water as much as land, and the potential for generating energy to meet domestic and global demand, including from renewable sources, are often central to investment strategies. Crop production for fuel, such as jatropha and sugarcane, and extraction of gas and oil, often impact on local land and water rights holders and tend to put energy before food needs. There are also potential clean energy projects, such as wind farms, which could benefit communities if their land rights are secured. Clearly the relationships between these natural resources and multiple development objectives are complex and need to be understood in context, while also deriving broader lessons to inform policy in the region.

Strategic focus

Global and regional policy frameworks now offer guidance on how national governments are to secure the land and other natural resource rights of their citizens, but such frameworks are not well known among rural communities and investors, nor do governments and parliamentary decision makers have access to information regarding how to comply with these. Promoting an understanding of the framework and applying it in specific sites can help to leverage change at the local level while also raising their profile and drawing lessons for needed policy and legal reforms.

The analysis and field research will use the aspirations of the global and regional frameworks as a benchmark; focus on gendered power relations and the needs of small-scale food producers and people in poverty; assess the relationship between land rights and the water- energy-food nexus; and make recommendations for what needs to be done for effective and equitable land and water governance to form the basis for reduced poverty and improved food security.

Building on past collaboration

This new initiative builds on a prior period of collaboration in a project entitled ‘Commercialisation of Land and ‘Land Grabbing’: Implications for Land Rights and Livelihoods in Southern Africa’ (2012-2015). This study involved partnerships between researchers and civil society organisations in five countries – Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe – with several study sites in each country.  Several research reports, policy briefs and short documentary films were produced, as well as a book on Land Deals in Southern Africa: Voices of the People of case studies presenting the testimonials of those affected and their diverse responses.  

  • Land already claimed: Our cases show how private companies have been concluding long-term leases with national governments to land already claimed and used by local communities.
  • Loss of common property: The impacts of these deals included the loss of land used by communities, mostly involving not outright dispossession and displacement, but rather common property resources like grazing land, water sources and forests. The study showed how livelihoods and food security have been undermined by the loss of access to these resources.
  • Loss in perpetuity: While some of the deals are for 15, 25 or even 50 years, in reality they are perceived by communities as signifying the loss of land and other resources in perpetuity.
  • Diverse responses spark conflict: Where ambitious commercial projects are introduced in poor rural areas, they tend to provoke different responses among different people, with some resisting the takeover of land and others welcoming the promise of ‘development’. These responses differ according to class, gender and generation, sparking intra-community conflicts in some cases.
  • Need for consultation and transparency: The conflicts over new investments arose largely from the failure to conduct adequate consultation with the people likely to be affected. The principle of ‘Free, Prior and Informed Consent’ was not applied and the terms of the deals were not transparent. The results in some cases were intractable conflicts which benefited neither local people nor investors.
  • Benefits for some:  While some people have lost out, some have got jobs and benefited from improved infrastructure and more dynamism in local economies, though this varied across different investment models, with most investment deals producing few jobs which do not compensate for the loss of resources on which people depend for their livelihoods.
  •  Non-compliance with rights frameworks: The findings from this study also pointed to the limited impact thus far of the global frameworks such as the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT), which were endorsed in the Committee on World Food Security on 11 May 2012.

Four years after this landmark global agreement, this new project will be one contribution to entrenching global and regional agreements, and ensuring rural women in our region can use them to realise their rights to land, water and food. 

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