OPINION: Give land rights to youth to boost rural economies

by Tizai Mauto | Landesa
Friday, 11 February 2022 14:29 GMT

A young man uses a sling to scare away birds and animals on an experimental rice field outside Richard Toll town, June 3, 2008. REUTERS/Normand Blouin (SENEGAL)

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Helping young people access land allows them to participate in rural economies while making progress on gender equity, food security, and adaptation to climate change

By Tizai Mauto, senior land tenure and youth specialist, Landesa

Africa’s youth population is expected to double between 2015 and 2055. At the same time, the percent of the continent’s young people employed or engaged in job training is falling.

These divergent trends underscore the fact that we are simply not creating enough jobs. A large swath of the 10-12 million young people who enter sub-Saharan Africa’s labor market annually must turn to the informal sector or face unemployment and the harsh cycle of poverty.

But there is untapped potential for youth around the world to not only break the poverty cycle for themselves, but also to transform rural economies, make progress on gender equity, and reduce food insecurity. That potential lies in the land — a resource many youth are missing.

Fewer than 1 in 10 young people own land in sub-Saharan Africa (compared to 1 in 3 adults), yet land holds a prime opportunity for youth to build sustainable livelihoods.

This opportunity is not unique to the African continent. With more than 60% of Africans under 35, more than 50% of Southeast Asians under 30, and the largest population share of young people Latin America has ever seen, youth present a demographic dividend for many low-income nations reliant on agriculture.

Securing land rights for young people can create pathways for youth to participate in rural economies; with increased access and control over productive landholdings, rural youth are more inclined to engage in farming and less likely to move out of rural areas.

Improving rural youth access to land can catalyze young farmers’ access to complementary skills and knowledge, financial services, markets, green jobs, and engagement in policy dialogue. Securing youth land rights can unlock their potential by bridging access to more than just land — for example, youth are more likely than adults to be unbanked, as land tenure is often a prerequisite to accessing finance.

Youth land rights can also open the door to gender equity. Young women are half as likely as young men to hold sole title to a plot of land in rural areas, yet we know strong land rights can increase the decision-making power of women and girls. Secure access to land can offer a head start for young women and girls to grow empowerment and break down systemic barriers to gender equity.

Finally, strengthening youth land rights presents a powerful opportunity to confront climate change. Youth are well-poised to use Information Communication Technology to gain information to adjust to climatic uncertainty, and have a stronger propensity to adopt new climate-smart agricultural technologies. But they need access to land to do so; secure land rights can incentivize young farmers to invest in their land and increase crop yield in the face of climate change.

Despite these immense opportunities, numerous barriers stand in the way of rural youth accessing land in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Both formal land tenure systems and customary practices in many countries generally exclude or discriminate against unmarried youth and those under 18 years of age. Often, the only way for youth to gain access to a plot of land is waiting for an inheritance, which constrains the timing of receipt as well as the location, size, and quality of the land itself.

Markets for land purchase and rental commonly remain undeveloped, especially in contexts where most plots of land are too small to be commercially viable. When markets do exist, they are costly for young farmers who often lack resources and networks to buy or rent land parcels.

Weak legal protections for those who do hold land along with evolving land governance systems and commodification make it increasingly challenging for youth to access productive land.  When young people are excluded from participation in land governance and decision-making at all levels of operation, it is no surprise land rights frameworks frequently fail them.

Securing land rights for a new generation of young farmers is an opportunity we cannot let pass us by. We need to advocate for land markets, policies, and institutions that are inclusive of young people. We need to build avenues beyond inheritance for youth to access land and strengthen the legal services available for them to secure it.

Youth deserve a voice in decision-making; we need to engage young farmers, youth leaders and youth-led organizations to enhance youth participation in land governance processes and ensure the development and implementation of youth responsive policies, laws, and institutions.

We know these changes are possible. Across Africa and Asia, innovative and promising collaborative initiatives continue to advance rural youth access to land through intergenerational transfers, sharecropping, allocation of public or community land, land purchase and rent, and improving the enabling environment for youth engagement in land administration and governance processes.

Without action, the alarming trends of youth unemployment, gender inequity, and climate change will continue. But if we do act on youth land rights, we can unlock the potential of young people to build the future they deserve.

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