The key to peace and security is right under our feet: Land

Across India, where I live and work, I can clearly see the connection between land rights and peace and security.

With respect to personal safety and security: 12 percent of all murders here are related to conflicts over land.

On a provincial level: few weeks go by without newspapers here reporting on violence between communities who are battling over land.

On a national level: On October 2nd 100,000 Indians will march more than 200 miles to Delhi under the banner of land for India’s 17 million landless who are trapped in poverty.

And on an international level: witness the decades-long low-level conflict between India and Pakistan.

This is not unique to India.

Not only are most wars between countries fought over land, but also, as we all intuitively know; high rates of landlessness or the inequitable distribution of land, leads to instability within countries. We see this today in Pakistan where an estimated 300 families preside over huge swaths of the countryside and lord over the majority of the rural population. And we can find this in our history books, in the chapters on devastating civil conflicts from Mexico and Russia, to China, and Vietnam – each of these bloody conflicts was fought by hungry peasants eager for their share of the land.

Providing impoverished rural people with access and secure rights to land is central to reducing poverty, empowering poor people and communities, and promoting both broader economic growth and social harmony, as evidenced by this new video spotlighting the connection between land ownership and peace and security.

To fully understand the role of land in fostering global peace and security, it helps to take a close look at the world’s poorest citizens. Around the world there are about one billion people who are desperately poor. The vast majority of these poor share two traits:

• They rely on agriculture to survive
• They don’t legally control the land they till

They are often sharecroppers, indentured servants, or squatters who struggle to climb out of poverty because they lack incentive and opportunity to invest in the land they farm to improve their harvest and their lives. And, just as importantly, their lack of legal control over the land on which they depend is a huge stumbling block not just for their immediate family, but also for the development of their village and nation. Moreover, it presents a problem we need to solve if we aim to achieve sustainable peace and security.

Consider the farmers highlighted in this film about Rwanda’s land rights. They previously lived with extreme insecurity because none of them had a title. Neighbors often claimed their weaker neighbors land and – not surprisingly – there were constant fist fights and legal battles.

And one only needs to recall the riots in Wukan, China earlier this year to understand just how explosive and destabilizing land conflicts can be.

But we needn’t follow Russia down a revolutionary path to provide the poorest with a stake in the future and an interest in maintaining peace.

There are promising programs around the world that are providing poor smallholder farmers with title to their land from Rwanda’s efforts to provide poor farmers with land titles, to the Indian states of Karnataka, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal who all have innovative programs aimed at providing the landless with small plots of land.

These programs deserve to be supported and further expanded.

Gregory Rake is India Country Director for Landesa, a global development non-profit that works to secure land rights for the world’s poor. Follow us @Landesa_Global

Greg Rake

About Greg Rake

Greg Rake manages Landesa's work in India. Rake’s career has been dedicated to advancing human and social rights around the world. He began his career in Bolivia and Latin America with a focus on public and community health and then moved into the area of land access and community development for the landless and poor in Central America and Mexico. Three themes have guided his service in the field of development: stewardship of human and environmental resources, development of human capacity, and sustainability. He is implementing Landesa's projects which focus on advising Indian state and national governments on how to provide their poorest citizens with access to land and livelihood development. Rake received a B.A. in theology from the University of San Francisco and an M.A. in health services administration from Antioch University. In addition, he has discovered the richness of on-going learning from those he works with at every level and in every setting.
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