Land tenure is an institution, i.e. the rules that govern the legal and customary relationship among people with respect to land. These rules define access to use rights, control, transfer, obligations and restraints to land. Secure land tenure means possessing fully exclusive and transferable property rights. This creates a strong incentive to invest in among others fixed improvements to increase land productivity. Insecure land tenure discourages private investment and overall economic growth.
In Africa, many rural households rely on land for their livelihoods. Land is therefore critical for food security and poverty eradication. Increased access to land (with all other factors held constant) leads to an increase in agricultural activities such as food (and cash crop) production hence income growth and food security. In the contrary, loss of access to land reduces food production and income. Again, long term guaranteed access to exclusive use rights to land promotes resource use which results in more efficient and profitable agricultural production, therefore increasing food availability and income.
Inappropriate land policies are a constraint to growth and development and put the disadvantaged at risk of food insecurity. For example, many African communities have customary systems, where land is owned and controlled by traditional practices. Customary leaders will, at their discretion, lease or rent land out to whomever they deem worthy. Recently in Ghana, hundreds of farmers have had their land forcefully taken over by a biofuel firm which bought the land from the chiefs. There was apparently no consultation with the farmers who have not yet been compensated. This has caused a major food security issue for the affected farmers. In open access systems, there is no incentive to invest in good farming practices and fixed improvements as benefits will accrue to free-riders who do not contribute to developing the gains. For example in communal grazing areas, with unrestricted land use, high stocking rates lead to soil erosion and land degradation. This reduces productivity of the land in question and will necessitate the conversion of marginal land into productive use, thus causing further environmental damage. The reduced productivity has an effect on food security and income generation. In some areas, absence of land markets translates into the underutilization of land and land-based resources. Land markets may facilitate the transfer of land to the most effective users.
Food security and poverty reduction policies must take into consideration the links that access to land and land systems have with food availability, hunger, access to income/capital, and poverty. Land policies should take into account livelihoods, environmental issues and markets as these are directly linked to food availability and access.