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Distribution of land

For zooming, please click on the graphic

For zooming, please click on the graphic.

The distribution of land around the world is very unequal. Smallholders in particular struggle to survive and feed themselves.

In many regions agricultural land is distributed very unequally. This is especially the case in many countries once under colonial rule, where the question of who has a legal right to the land, forests, and waters is often complex and unclear. Although many areas have been declared state property, actual land use is based on local, usually historical rules. As fertile land has become more highly sought after, by locals as well as international investors, conflicts have increased. Consequently, in recent years thousands of families have been forced to leave their land against their will—often without any compensation. In Germany, too, the lack of access to land is a problem for smaller farm operations. This is especially true in the former East German states.

At a global level, unequal access to land is particularly detrimental to the world’s 475 million smallholders whose harvests feed some 2 billion people. Securing rights to land is thus key to securing the livelihoods and food supply of rural populations. Protecting land tenure rights thus also reduces the exodus from rural areas, and with it the problem of the growth of slums and increasing poverty in big cities.

Politicians around the world have recognized the potential for conflict posed by increasingly scarce resources. Together with private and public organizations, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization approved the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT) in 2012. This was a milestone on the path to securing land tenure rights—particularly for disadvantaged and marginalized groups, which in many regions includes women.

Establishing a more just distribution of land and protecting the land rights of the rural population continue to be major challenges, however. Often this requires tackling existing power structures. Addressing this challenge is essential n order to improve the quality of life in rural areas and achieve global food security.

Photo credit: Soil Atlas 2015 (

Posted April 15, 2015 in: Contributions by Ein Hektar

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