Uneven ground – land inequality at the heart of unequal societies

Land is much more unevenly distributed world-wide than previously assumed – to the detriment of smallholdings, indigenous communities and, in particular, women. A new report issued by the International Land Coalition demonstrates the magnitude of inequality as well as approaches towards achieving more justice.

Landed property is being concentrated world-wide among ever fewer owners, putting smallholdings, indigenous peoples and especially women whose livelihoods depend on access to land at a disadvantage. This is stated in the report “Uneven Ground: Land Inequality at the Heart of Unequal Societies”, published by the International Land Coalition in late November 2020. 

The report shows that inequality in land ownership has been on the increase since the 1980s. Today, the wealthiest ten per cent of the rural population are in control of more than 60 per cent of total land value, whereas the poorest 50 per cent dispose of a mere three per cent. Thus unequal access to land is threatening the livelihoods of around 2.5 billion people involved in small-scale agriculture, including 1.4 billion of the world's poorest people, whose livelihood largely depends on farming.

One of the factors responsible for the rising trend in land inequality is an increasing interest among entrepreneurs and finance actors in investing in farmland, resulting in an ever greater concentration of land ownership and control and ever less transparency.

The report also shows that the extent of inequality has so far been underestimated. “In the framework of this project, a new way to measure land inequality was developed that goes beyond land size distribution captured through traditional agricultural census,” said Ward Anseeuw, co-author of the report and coordinator of the initiative, presenting the report. Information such as the value of land, multiple ownership and landlessness, as well as the control a person or an entity has over it had also been considered in the assessment.

The report demonstrates how complex and multidimensional land inequality is and how it is related to other forms of inequality and many global crises, how the concentration of land in the hands of a small number of individuals has progressed over the last few decades and the forces at work behind this, as well as the measures which are suitable to effectively counter land inequality.

(landcoalition/sri)

The International Land Coalition is a network of more than 250 organisations world-wide which are campaigning for stronger land rights and support for women, men and communities whose livelihoods depend on access to land. 

More information:
International Land Coalition Website

Download report 

Rural 21 issue no 3/2016: Land governance

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