By: Pinaki Halder, Landesa West Bengal State Director
The planting of a tree has long been understood as an act of faith in and hope for the future.
But it is also a mark of ownership—an investment in the land.
I live in India where 17 million families can’t plant a single tree because they are completely landless. And our landscape reflects this.
These families, who are the poorest of the poor and survive as migrant laborers, day laborers on farms, or tenant farmers, often have to exploit their environment to survive – fell trees growing on land owned by others for firewood, clear virgin forests to plant their crops, and graze their animals on any patch they can find.
But this new video (below) illustrates how an innovative program in India is turning these poorest of the poor into small holder farmers who develop a more long-term horizon and adopt greener farming practices.
Through a unique partnership between the government of West Bengal, India, and Landesa, a global organization focused on land rights for the world’s poor, more than 22,000 formerly poor and landless families have gained legal ownership over their own small plot of land. For these new land owners, some of whom are featured in the video, the joy of being able to plant their own trees demonstrates how legal control over a plot of land is a game changer for the poorest of the poor.
Land ownership has given these families the ability to feed themselves with the small kitchen gardens they plant. The families report that the trees they plant often provide their children with much more fruit in their diet.
But these small plots of land also do something more basic. They change people’s horizon. Instead of thinking about surviving the day, these new land owning families can now plan for the months and seasons to come. Land ownership has given them the incentive and the opportunity to invest in their land to ensure a better future.
And that brings a dramatic change in behavior that is turning the countryside green.
Because even in cases where families are using their new kitchen gardens to plant timber trees, they tell us that they are planting new trees when they harvest the old.
Each freshly planted sapling is not only a mark of ownership, but also a sign of high hopes.
And the new land owners are practicing organic farming techniques, crop rotation, and other activities to ensure that they responsibly manage their new resource – land.
A variety of research supports the notion that secure ownership is critical to conservation efforts. In China, Landesa’s 17-province survey has found that farming families are dramatically more likely to invest in their land when they have secure tenure. And other research has found secure tenure leads to a doubling of investment.
And it is not just the completely landless who can help the planet when they become landowners with secure title. Consider the situation for many of the world’s poor who often farm the same land their parents farmed, but with no legal title to the land. These farmers from Kenya to Karnataka, have little incentive to invest in their land if they worry that it will be taken from them because they lack secure rights to the land. In Rwanda, Landesa found that families began to invest in their land and to think more sustainably after they received title to their land, even though most had been farming the same patch for generations, without legal title.
Indeed, secure land rights are a precondition for sustainable agriculture and for increased agricultural productivity on small farms around the world. Check out this new video to see how small scale farmers in West Bengal are planting a greener future for my country.