A new tool for understanding the relationship between land tenure security and sustainable development

Published: 18 July 2022

Sustainable agricultural practices require considerable investments, and smallholder famers may not realize gains for years. Without secure land tenure, they lack incentive to invest in long-term benefits. Instead, many opt to use the land as intensively as possible each year since they have no guarantee for the future. This is just one example of how land tenure security intersects with sustainable development, a relationship explored in-depth in a recent book co-edited by Brian Robinson, an associate professor in the Department of Geography at McGill University.

Land Tenure Security and Sustainable Development discusses the implications of secure land tenure — the bundle of rights governing property ownership — on contemporary issues ranging from Indigenous rights and food security to climate adaptation and conflict-driven migration. Land tenure policies may provide a barrier to empowering women, or they could influence a family’s decision to emigrate from a drought zone. Each of the topics in this book are tackled by a co-author team comprised of academics and practitioners from 10 countries representing 30 institutions to offer cutting-edge research contextualized by empirical case studies.

“Each chapter offers a big-picture view of the issue at hand, but there are also very grounded examples of how these things play out in real life,” Robinson explained. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t just publishing our work through traditional academic venues. Our goal was to put together a book that was accessible to practitioners and a broad audience working on development and conservation — something that people on the ground could actually use and relate to.”

Part of that accessibility comes from the fact that the book is completely free, thanks to funding from the McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative and The Nature Conservancy. But it’s also based on the origins of the book, which was born out of a working group made up of diverse academics as well as representatives from organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Rights and Resources Initiative.

“Academics who opt into this type of working group generally have an eye toward wanting to get their research out there and to actually affect change,” Robinson said. “Working alongside people from more action-oriented organizations, we knew that if we were going to write a book, it should be focused on a practitioner audience.”

Divided into four sections, the book starts off with an introduction to land tenure security and the ways in which it connects to sustainability goals for those new to the topic. This sets the stage for several chapters that examine specific phenomena and cross-cutting issues important to land tenure security and sustainable development. These include topics such as gender, sustainable agriculture and food security, population growth and density, large-scale land acquisition, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and Indigenous and local community perspectives.

The book also assesses existing programs and policies used by governments, non-governmental organizations, and communities around the world to strengthen land tenure security, and it concludes with directions for future research and ideas of how policymakers can make meaningful progress on these issues.

About this book

Land Tenure Security and Sustainable Development. Edited by Margaret B. Holland, Yuta J. Masuda, and Brian E. Robinson.

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