How equal rights can boost food security

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania (IRIN) – Eliminating the gender gap in agriculture is widely seen as crucial to alleviating poverty and improving food security, and the effects of inequality are likely to be further compounded by climate change.

“For global development to be sustainable, the issues of climate change, gender equality and food security must all go hand-in-hand,” said Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and head of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, told a recent meeting of experts in Rome convened to mark International Women’s day.

“Family farmers are the dominant force in global food production. And, at the same time, they are among the world’s most vulnerable people,” Food and Agriculture Director-General José Graziano Da Silva said at the gathering.

“Much of the future of global food security depends on their realizing their untapped potential. Rural women are an important part of this, not just as famers but also in processing and preparing food, and local markets,” he added.

But, in many countries such as Tanzania, an outmoded system of land tenure continues to shut women out of land ownership. Despites strong laws prohibiting the practice, women farmers still face discrimination.

Asha Ramadhani, a farmer in Tanzania’s Mwanga District, has been trying to access a piece of land she desperately needs to boost her meagre crop output. “It’s a tricky and frustrating process because I am a woman my issue is treated as a favour rather than a right,” she complained.

Local attitudes to land ownership make it difficult for them to access the best land.

The 44-year-old divorcee has in the past three years been leasing a two-acre farm near Mangio village where she grows maize, beans, vegetables and sweet potatoes.

While farming in this village is based on tenancy through exchange of crops, drier weather is making it harder for Ramadhani to pay her lease due to dismal yields.

“My landlord wants a quarter of my crop yield every season as lease payment, but the drought makes it harder to come by,” she told IRIN.

Women own only 20 percent of registered land in Tanzania, according to a US Agency for International development (USAID) property rights and resource governance country profile for Tanzania, and land held by women under customary law is likely to be much lower.

The Land Act and the Village Land Act of’99 govern women’s land rights. The constitution of Tanzania also enshrines the equality of all persons.

The law gives women the right to access, own, and control land on an equal footing with men and allows them to participate in decision-making on land matters.

Section 3(2) of both the Land Act and the Village Land Act states: “The right of every woman to acquire, hold, use and deal with land shall, to the same extent and subject to the same restrictions, be treated as the right of any man.”

Women are also allowed to own or occupy land jointly with other persons, while protecting them against unlawful transfer of land tittles under joint occupancy.

But legislation is insufficiently enforced.

All over Mwanga district, women are finding it increasingly difficult to access land and water sources in the face of ever drier weather.

“Most people with large tracts of land are men; there are hardly [any] women who own land, especially close to the water sources,” Ramadhani told IRIN.

The village land ownership procedure gives men the upper hand, she said. “Many of my friends have lost hope because whenever they lodge their request for land they don’t succeed,” she added.

– Provided by Integrated Regional Information Networks.

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