Mobilising smallholder farmers to achieve sustainable development

28Nov 2019
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Mobilising smallholder farmers to achieve sustainable development

SMALLHOLDER farmers play a big role in ensuring food security not only in their families but also in the communities and their countries at large.

Very often small scale farmers depend on their labour to produce what they need and sometimes surplus, working on small pieces of land. They usually lack other resources such as finance, machinery and other inputs but nevertheless feed an entire country.

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) a smallholder farmer is an agricultural holding run by a family using mostly (or only) their own labour and deriving from that work a large but variable share of its income, in kind or in cash.

“The family relies on its agricultural activities for at least part of the food consumed – be it through self-provision, non-monetary exchanges or market exchanges,” says FAO in one of its publications, adding that the family members also engage in activities other than farming, locally or through migration.

Under the circumstances, country’s policies and programmes should enable small producers to engage in policy debate and dialogue and can help ensure that their communities enjoy consistent access to safe, sufficient, nutritious and affordable food and nutrition. In the world’s efforts to end hunger and achieve food security, small-scale producers and their organisations are undeniably key players and governments must commit to expand and enhance the positive contributions they make in achieving sustainable development goals.

The government of Tanzania has taken several measures to promote the welfare of smallholder farmers, including issuance of Certificates of Customary Rights of Occupancy that enable them to own land. Local and international NGOs have taken similar measures to ensure tenure rights of smallholder farmers. Yet incidences of land rights violations, land conflicts and  land grabbing still prevail.

”Very often we witness procedural misconducts in land acquisitions and disregard of small farmers’ voices in decision making regarding their land rights. There is also discrimination of women and other marginalised groups in accessing and owning land resources. Although there are pockets of success in protecting land rights of these communities, we need to scale up efforts because land is the most important property for these people,” says Cathbert Tomitho, the Executive Director of HAKIARDHI, a Land Rights Research and Resources institute based in Dar es Saalaam.

Speaking on the importance of land, Cosmas Milton Ochieng, an expert in natural resources governance and economic development in Africa, says that land is central to social, economic and political development in Africa.

“Land in Africa is not simply an economic or an environmental asset. It is also a social and cultural resource and an important factor in the construction of social identity and the organisation of the religious, cultural and economic lives of many African communities,” explains Ochieng, who is the Director of the African Natural Resource Centre at the African Development Bank.

“In 30 years’ time, about half of the world’s agricultural land will come from Africa. How Africa manages its land is therefore critical to its future social, economic and environmental well-being,” he said ahead of the 3rd Edition of the Conference on Land Policy in Africa which takes place this week in Abidjan.

To respond to the challenges faced by smallholder farmers, HAKIARDHI implements a project that seeks to enhance knowledge base and participation of small scale producers, particularly women, in policy and decision making processes. Implementation of the project, “Enhanced knowledge base and participation of small scale producers particularly women in policy and decision making processes and hold leaders accountable for sustainable development” also aims to empower communities to hold their leaders accountable for  achieving sustainable development.

This project is implemented in Kilindi District in Tanga Region and Morogoro District in Morogoro Region where HAKIARDHI is also conducting a similar project, the Ardhi Yetu. The latter focuses mainly on promoting women’s rights to own land and other property and how to sustain and protect these rights.

”We strives to promote an inclusive society with equal rights to access, use, control and own land and natural resources for sustainable development. Our main focus is to enhance knowledge and awareness of small-scale producers, women and girls and disabled people to demand rights and protect natural resources. We want to build their capacity to participate in policy process and dialogue in order to make informed decisions. But at the end of the day they should be able to hold leaders accountable for the management of land and other natural resources,” says Joseph Chiombola, Senior Programmes Officer at HAKIARDHI.

But on the other hand Chiombola says that the project also aims to enhance leaders’ accountability, transparency and responsiveness to the demands of all groups of small-scale producers on land and natural resources issues.

“It all boils down to creating an environment where leaders and communities work together transparently for the latter to benefit from land and other natural resources in a bid to achieve sustainable development goals,” adds Chiombola.

Looking at the long term results of the activities of HAKIARDHI it is expected that all groups of small-scale producers will be in a position to take active role in policy and decision making process and demand more accountability from their leaders at the Local and Central Government levels. This should ultimately lead to change in policies and practices so that they respond to their needs and guarantee them equitable access, use, control and ownership over land and related natural resources for sustainable development.

“This looks like a tall order; but we are not looking just within the four years that the two projects will be implemented. The capacity we are building among communities should last for generations because the right to own property, the right to participate in the decision making process and the right to benefit from natural resources remain infinite. The capacity will be passed from one generation to another,” says Augustine Munuma, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for HAKIARDHI.

However, by the end of the project communities are likely to show increased understanding of land and resource management laws and processes, increased capacity of key local stakeholders to voice citizens' demand for participatory decision-making and accountability processes; and enhanced citizens’ joint participation in decision-making and accountability processes around public service delivery, with a focus on education services.

The outcomes should thus clearly demonstrate progress in strengthening the land rights of smallholder farmers including progressively addressing incidences of land rights violations, prevalence of land conflicts, procedural misconducts in land acquisitions, discrimination of women and other marginalized groups in accessing and owning land resources.

There are underlying issues that help to achieve the targeted outcomes. Land use plans are one of them. These make people more concerned about their land and property rights; hence they are better informed and can thus participate in discussion on land rights issues. Any increase of land use plans will significantly contribute to an increase of secured land tenure for small-scale producers because they will be given Certificates of Customary Rights of Occupancy. Nevertheless, knowing land rights does not necessarily lead to fewer conflicts but it simplifies resolution of land-based conflicts. As people know their rights and become more aware of land issues in general, more demands are raised and so more conflicts emerge. But with increased awareness and understanding of land issues, such conflicts can easily be dealt with.

The situation calls to duty Land Rights Monitors (LRM) who, besides educating communities on basic land laws, land ownership and land rights, play a vital role in mediating conflicts among community members. They spearhead learning through group discussions that they have established in their villages. The group discussions have become platforms for community members to air their views on land issues. Some problems regarding land rights and ownership are cleared during these discussions.

Small-holder farmers depend on land for their survival. It is almost their only sources of livelihood through which they make significant contribution for the country to achieve sustainable development goals. They must therefore understand their rights and participate in all processes and decisions that affect them.