USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Land Tenure

Sweet Rewards for Peruvian Farmers Who Trade Coca for Chocolate

A close up of recently harvested red and green cacao pods

Cacao pods ready for processing/USAID

I always enjoy the chance to take Washington visitors out of the vibrant capital city of Lima and into the Amazon. There they see first-hand the complex challenges that Peru faces, including the presence of transnational criminal organizations and the coca fields that dot the landscape. But they also see the bravery and enthusiasm of rural farmers who have turned away from coca farming and are now growing coffee and some of the world’s best cacao, used by chocolate producers in the United States and around the world.

Peru remains a leading producer of cocaine, an illegal industry that enriches criminal organizations, fuels violence and perpetuates poverty in rural communities. Peruvian cocaine can be found on the streets of the United States and Europe. And the criminal networks that produce and sell cocaine in Peru threaten the security of the entire hemisphere.

Farmers like Rolando Herrera, who decide to grow coca, are often at the mercy of these cartels. And while coca generates income, it does not lead to development. Banks, pharmacies and farm suppliers do not want to set up shop in narco-trafficking zones. Schools and health clinics cannot recruit teachers and nurses to such areas. As one farmer told me, “coca gives you work, but doesn’t give you a future.” As a result, like Rolando, many communities are agreeing to abandon coca farming and join the licit economy.

The U.S. Government works closely with the Government of Peru in its efforts to disrupt the operations of criminal networks, eradicate coca and help farmers like Rolando develop lucrative, legal crops. USAID Administrator Mark Green recently visited Peru and saw first-hand this dynamic and the way the Agency partners with Peruvian officials and citizens to reduce this transnational scourge.

A woman (Irene Chamalla), left, and a man (USAID Peru Mission Director Lawrrence Rubey), right, stand outdoors holding a tray of unprocessed cacao pods

USAID Peru Mission Director Lawrence Rubey and Irene Chamalla, cacao farmer and representative of the Colpa de Loros Cooperative in a cacao farm in Campo Verde, Ucayali. / USAID

USAID works in partnership with both the Peruvian Commission for Development and Life Without Drugs (DEVIDA) and the private sector to connect farmers to national and international markets. This model works.

Data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime show that in areas where coca eradication was paired with sustained assistance to farmers and greater investment in infrastructure and social services by the Peruvian government, coca cultivation decreased by nearly 90 percent from 2011-2016. Most importantly, communities that were mired in a poverty trap because of coca now have a much brighter future.

Much of this success is because of the Government of Peru’s growing commitment to invest its own resources to stop the production and trafficking of cocaine.

The government has dramatically increased its counter-narcotics budget from $145 million in 2012 to $214 million in 2017. And in 2013, Peru expanded the role of DEVIDA from a coordinating and policymaking agency to one with a field presence that works directly with communities to improve government services and create economic opportunities. Today, DEVIDA’s budget is over $45 million, up from just $4 million in 2010.

A large group of men and women pose in lines among trees

USAID Peru Mission Director Lawrence Rubey in a cacao farm in Ucayali together with a group of farmers benefited from the Peru Cacao Alliance, a public-private partnership sponsored by USAID. / USAID

A perfect example of DEVIDA’s success is the former coca stronghold of the Monzon Valley, which once held about 10,000 hectares of coca. Here, the average income in 2013 was $1.89 per person per day, well below Peru’s extreme poverty line of $2.20 per person per day. With DEVIDA’s assistance, households saw a 53 percent increase in income from 2012 to 2016, and the percentage of extremely poor families dropped by 55 to 30 percent.

USAID is committed to helping Peruvians and their government. Our partnership is more cost-effective than ever as it leverages more external resources every year. Peru’s national production of high-quality, exportable cacao is expected to more than double by 2021, helping to feed the growing demand for dark chocolate and supply the $35 billion U.S. confectionery industry that employs 55,000 workers. In 2015, USAID leveraged $11 million from the private sector to generate $48 million in total sales of legal crops.

There is certainly more work to be done, but Peru is clearly gaining traction against the criminal organizations that operate in the rural Amazon. Given the commitment of the Peruvian Government, I am confident that progress will continue. And Rolando and thousands of other former coca farmers seeking a more secure future will see to it.


Lawrence Rubey is the director of USAID’s mission in Peru.

Grading Donors on Land Rights: Where We Are, and Where We’re Going

In 2010, I was sitting in a meeting at the World Bank where initial principles were being discussed for guiding large-scale agricultural investments– which had grown dramatically after the food price spike of 2008.

Governments, the private sector, civil society and others want to promote investment in ways that benefit all local communities, investors and governments; and improve economic growth and food security for many of the worlds most vulnerable populations.

However, four years later, the global community is still deeply engaged in developing these guidelines for the private sector, now known as the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI) and led by the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

While we do not yet have investment principles for the private sector, we do have guidelines for host governments to use in developing land policies, laws and procedures to promote good land governance, including in the context of investment. They are called The Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. Secure property rights are the gateway to broad-based economic growth, improved food security, reduced violent conflict, and improved natural resource management and, by extension, one of the best tools to address global climate change. Weak land and resource rights limit investment (of any size),threaten good natural resource management, often promote conflict and pose special problems for vulnerable groups including minorities, indigenous people, the poor, and women.

This past week, nearly 1000 experts and influencers in the land rights sector gathered at the World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty to present field-based research, announce new initiatives and to develop innovative partnerships. Many of these presentations and announcements are rooted in the desire to implement aspects of the Voluntary Guidelines.

I had the pleasure of chairing the Voluntary Guidelines negotiations back in 2011 and 2012 for the eventual adoption of this seminal agreement. Having had a unique position to participate in the negotiations, and now managing USAID’s global program supporting the Voluntary Guidelines, I feel compelled to take stock of where we are now and what have we accomplished in the past two years and, most importantly, to ask where we should go next.

Asilya Gemmal proudly displays her land certificate

Youth Benefit from Land Certificates (Photo: Links Media)

So Where Are We Now?

I believe we are witnessing the emergence of a global consensus among bilateral and multilateral institutions, the private sector, and civil society organizations that the Voluntary Guidelines are the guiding doctrine for emerging-economy governments to be able to recognize and promote the protection of property rights around the world.

In the two years since the Voluntary Guidelines were adopted, donors and development agencies have started to align their bilateral and multilateral assistance programs supporting property rights and improved resource governance to them.

Throughout 2012 and 2013 USAID led an initiative through the Global Donor Working Group on Land that collected information on the land and resource governance programs of 16 donors and development agencies to help us better coordinate our programs, and understand their successes and pitfalls as they pertain to supporting the Voluntary Guidelines. The result is a comprehensive database of 445 programs, being implemented in 119 countries, with a value of over $2 billion.

In December the Governments of Ethiopia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany formed a partnership to support the Voluntary Guidelines and promote greater transparency in rural land governance. This partnership was a result of coordinated work under the 2013 G8 transparency initiative on land.

Proud Holders of Land-Use Certificates

Proud Holders of Land-Use Certificates (Photo: Nina Terrell/USAID)

And Where Are We Going?

While the development community has made important progress supporting the Voluntary Guidelines, I believe we have far more to do.  Here are some suggestions:

  • While the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN has developed initial advice, we must strive to develop additional guidance for emerging economies, including “how to” manuals for the Voluntary Guidelines that make them easier for governments to implement.
  • We should also increase our efforts to raise awareness, provide training, and build capacity at the local level to bridge the gap between global best practice and what is understood and pursued on the ground in the developing countries.
  • The development community should also recognize that the private sector plays a key role in the success of this process. The private sector is moving forward—in consultation with civil society and donor organizations—to develop better practices for acquiring land for commercial agriculture, extractives, and biofuels. Last year, the Coca-Cola Company negotiated an agreement with Oxfam to respect local property rights along its supply chain. PepsiCo and eight other large companies have recently agreed to do the same under the ‘Behind the Brands’ campaign.
  • Another possible next step could be the development of a certification standard – as was done with Fair Trade Coffee or the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil – under the rubric of “Fair Land.” Industry certification would set an acceptable expectation for how companies will invest and conduct business with respect to land rights in emerging economies and could help build the private sector expertise required to effectively manage land throughout supply chains. Such a scheme would also empower civil society to monitor investments in a more systematic way and allow consumers to reward companies that behave responsibly and apply pressure to those that do not. Through certification, we might see an uptick in investments leading to local economic growth that could propel the bottom billion out of extreme poverty.

These ideas and recommendations were echoed in more than two dozen meetings USAID hosted with private sector, civil society, development partners and academia at this year’s World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty.

If we want a stable world, where market-based democracies thrive and trade and job markets expand, we must focus on empowering every global citizen to make private decisions about how they will acquire, use, enjoy, and dispose of property.

Uncovering Success: A Holistic Approach to Taking Stock of Natural Resource Management Interventions

How do we know if development projects have impacted people’s lives? We can collect data on how many people participated in a project or how much their income increased. We can also measure the effect on the number of people with access to a service or we can count the amount of land that has been reforested. But when we know that complex development challenges take a long time to change, how do we clarify our impact beyond these specific measures and the very short project life cycle, which is usually three to five years?

Natural tree regeneration not only helps protect the environment and enhance livelihoods, but cuts down on women’s time collecting household fuel wood. Photo: Brent McCusker

Natural tree regeneration not only helps protect the environment and enhance livelihoods, but cuts down on women’s time collecting household fuel wood. Photo: Brent McCusker

This question was at the heart of a challenge recently taken up by the Agency’s Productive Landscapes Team in the Land Tenure and Resource Management Office.

Real landscape-level change takes a long time to detect and often eludes our most finely tuned impact indicators. Because environmental and landscape change happens over decades, and because human actions are often the result of many causes, E3 developed a holistic assessment methodology called “Stocktaking” and tested it in several rural Malawian landscapes.

In trying to understand both the unintended and long term impacts of our interventions, the team drew upon findings in the Sahel that show significant re-greening of the land over the last thirty years. That finding was identified only after interviewing local people and asking them about the reasons for their successes—not passing judgment on their actions, but by identifying the root causes of successful land transformations and the ways in which land users overcame barriers.

Stocktaking differs from traditional impact assessments or monitoring and evaluation methods. These latter techniques judge success or failure against a benchmark (indicator) to determine whether or not a project has met its specific goals over a bounded period of time. Stocktaking takes a different path. The focus is on long term, multi-sectoral changes, and in discovering hidden and/or unintended impacts. For instance, a Stocktaking approach might examine how an agricultural intervention led to increased food production and forest regrowth and an increase in the amount of credit in a village. This variety of different outcomes might not be captured in a traditional assessment technique.  Stocktaking can be used to identify unintended impacts long after a program or development investment has ended.

With Stocktaking in mind, the E3 team traveled to Malawi in June and again in August of this year to search for the root causes of landscape change. Malawi’s north is relatively land abundant and USAID’s interventions have built value-chains from the local environment. Practices such as beekeeping, fishing along Lake Malawi, and sustainable cash crop production are all livelihood enhancing activities that put money in the hands of farmers without damaging the natural resource base.

After using the Stocktaking methodology to interview several households and community groups, the team learned valuable lessons about the longer-term impact of USAID interventions, and many of the positive unintended consequences of natural resource management projects. For instance, respondents remarked that natural tree regeneration resulted in significant labor savings. Women were able to reduce the amount of time they spent collecting fuel wood and transfer that labor savings to other income generating activities. Natural tree regeneration also reduced the amount of conflict with park rangers of nearby conservation areas.  Beekeeping in the Nyika-Vwasa Forest Reserve generated sufficient capital for project beneficiaries to start a range of businesses.

The follow-up trip in southern Malawi in August 2013 discovered similar unintended consequences. The Stocktaking methodology was conducted on water projects in an irrigation and watershed management scheme. A key finding was that village savings and loans, a type of micro-lending institution, were critical in financing activities such as buying seeds for more diverse crops that will help farmers adapt to climate change.

Like the re-greening of the Sahel, these unintended consequences of natural resource management interventions may have fallen “under the radar” in normal monitoring and evaluation since they were not expressed goals of any single project. Additionally, natural regeneration is difficult to quantify with traditional assessment and is easy to miss with standard geospatial imagery. Stocktaking team members are in the process of examining advanced geospatial methods to determine when forested plots were either naturally regenerated or planted. By locating interventions on the map and using such images, a longer term time series analysis can be compiled to determine exactly when the landscape changed, so that Stocktaking teams can then probe deeper with stakeholders to discover why that change occurred.  A instructional guide on how to conduct a Stocktaking evaluation and a community discussion board are found at:

The Stocktaking approach is one way the USAID Forward principles of evidence-based decision making and local stakeholder participation are supporting improved development outcomes in the Malawi and beyond.

Podcast of the Week: Changing the World One Property Right at a Time

Land tenure, or helping people in developing countries establish clear rights to their property, is a little-known issue that is nonetheless essential to the global fight on poverty. This podcast, based on an interview with USAID’s land tenure division chief Gregory Myers, explains the issue and how the U.S. Government is helping secure property rights around the globe. Follow our work on land tenure this month on Twitter by following #landmatters.


Certificates to Irrigated Land Increase Resilience among Ethiopian Pastoralists

Ato Abdela Said Fulesa understands the importance of having secure land rights. As he explains how his income, food and nutrition security, and resilience have increased in recent years, he carefully holds the kaartaa that certifies his rights to a 0.45 hectare irrigated parcel. The kaartaa is a simple document – it contains a sketch map, a parcel number, and Ato Abdela and his wife’s names and their picture – but it is having a powerful impact.

Ato Abdela displays the kaartaa certifying his, along with his wife's, rights to their parcel of land in Oromia, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Gregory Myers, USAID

Ato Abdela displays the kaartaa certifying his, along with his wife’s, rights to their parcel of land in Oromia, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Gregory Myers, USAID

Ato Abdela is a member of the Kereyu community in the Oromia Regional State of Ethiopia, which for generations has followed the rains with their livestock. Their pastoral way of life has historically been the most efficient way to make use of the scarce natural resources scattered across the vast, arid scrublands that cover much of east and southern Ethiopia. While new developments, such as roads and agriculture schemes, have increased livelihood options in these areas, in some cases, these developments have been perceived to reduce access to seasonal water points and grazing areas, potentially making the Kereyu’s nomadic livelihood increasingly tenuous.

For example, some fifty years ago in Fentale woreda (district), a large irrigation scheme was built to support a commercial sugar plantation. Unfortunately, the people who had been using this land for generations were not compensated for the lost access to land and water caused by this development. In contrast, over the past five years, the district government has developed some 3,000 hectares of new irrigated fields for use by local people by diverting water from the nearby Awash River using lined earthen canals. Although initially residents were promised 1 hectare per family, due to a smaller than expected supply of irrigated land, residents were instead eligible to receive up to 0.5 hectare for a single-headed household or up to 0.75 hectare for a couple. USAID helped the government survey and certify over 5,000 parcels in this district. Ato Abdela received 0.45 hectare of irrigated land that he now uses to grow maize for his family, as well as tomatoes, onions, and green beans for sale.

Having access to an irrigated, certified parcel has helped Ato Abdela build both resilience and capital. “I used to sell cattle to buy food, and when I couldn’t sell cattle during times of drought, I relied on [food aid]. Now, I grow my own food crops and I sell the extras at the market,” he explained. He’s used the extra income to build a house made of mud bricks with an iron roof, a significant improvement over the modest pole and thatch homes predominant in his community. But he still keeps his cattle, preferring to add crop production to diversify his livelihood rather than giving up his pastoral way of life entirely. In fact, livestock numbers in the district have increased since the irrigation scheme became operational, suggesting that these entrepreneurial pastoralists are investing not only in built capital but also in natural capital. Rather than losing access to important land and water resources, it appears that the pastoralists in Fentale have gained an additional livelihood option that they can use as a safety net in times of drought.

Now that he has built his house, Ato Abdela intends to have the land around it certified so that if there is ever any challenge to his rights he can prove his claim. Given that Fentale woreda has some 13,000 hectares of potentially irrigable land remaining, there is considerable scope for scaling up this integrated approach to support small-scale entrepreneurs. To the extent that future irrigation developments recognize local land rights and help diversify livelihoods, they have the potential to increase resilience in this precarious environment.

USAID support to the Government of Ethiopia to strengthen land administration and property rights began in 2005 and continues under the U.S. Feed the Future Initiative with a new and expanded third phase under the Land Administration to Nurture Development (LAND) program. Building on the positive impacts demonstrated through certifying individual holdings in Fentale, the new LAND program will bring the benefits of secure property rights to communal areas, where most land is held at the community level rather than by individuals. Like Ato Abdela, pastoralists in the two neighboring provinces targeted by the LAND program will benefit from clearly demarcated land rights and increased access to markets, removing barriers to economic growth, and an occasional source of conflict, in increasingly drought-prone areas.

Photo of the Week: Administrator Shah in North Colombia

Last week, Administrator Shah met with displaced families in Corozal, Sucre in Northern Colombia at a land titling event, and received a warm “thank you” from one of the community members. Photo is from USAID.

Global Dialogue on Rights to Land, Resources Advancing Rapidly

My travels to Rome, Brussels, Ottawa, Tokyo and East Africa over the past year have focused on promoting a broad discussion on the necessity for good land governance to promote food security. Partners have repeatedly stressed to me the importance of land governance systems to promote investment and more transparent land transactions. These conversations are taking place parallel to increased media coverage of land issues, the G8 and G20’s focus on land and property rights, the UN Committee on World Food Security’s adoption of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (commonly referred to as the VGs), the UN’s post-2015 Development Agenda planning, and the forthcoming negotiations for the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment. Together, these highlight a clear message: property rights are central and vitally important to global development.

Two women in the village of Abeye, Ethiopia obtained land certificates through a USAID program. By establishing rights to the land they occupy, they were able to make investments to increase their food production. Photo credit: Anthony Piaskowy,USAID

As a global leader on supporting resource governance rights, USAID is out in front on this issue. Along with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the State Department and other U.S. Government agencies, we are working together with many stakeholders to improve land and resource governance systems in many countries. While USAID and MCC’s investment of more than $800 million in 32 countries are among the largest in the donor community, we seek to coordinate our efforts with partners so that the maximum benefit can be realized.

An important step in coordinating and refining our efforts will occur next week at the World Bank’s annual Conference on Land and Poverty in Washington D.C. Over 800 participants from governments, donors, academia, the media, the private sector and civil society will gather for an intense week of conversations focused on research and policy solutions to strengthen property rights for many of world’s poorest people.

In order to eradicate extreme poverty, address global climate change, and increase food security, we must secure property rights for all producers and create conditions that enable private investment to take place so that small, medium, and large producers can benefit from their investments. USAID will advance this position and play a key role next week to lead the global community towards implementing programs that reflect best practice and greater stakeholder coordination.

To follow the proceedings from next week’s conference, I welcome you to follow my comments and reactions to the more than 300 papers and presentations through my personal twitter handle, @Gregorywmyers. Additionally, you may follow reactions to the conference from our many partners by searching #landrights on Twitter.

FrontLines Year in Review: A Right to Land

This is part of our FrontLines Year in Review series. This originally appeared in FrontLines July/August 2012 issue.

Property rights are proving to be a solid foundation for economic empowerment for individuals, corporations and nations, and a potential solution to shore up food security in developing countries. International guidelines adopted earlier this year address this issue.

New international guidelines adopted earlier this year are expected to pave the way for “landowners” to establish clearer rights to land and other resources in developing countries. That seemingly simple act—multiplied many times over in countries across the globe—could have profound consequences for the economies of developing countries, and reverse the trend of speculators snatching land without permission from the people who have historically considered it their own.

Asilya Gemmal, 14, of Gure Tebeno Union, proudly displays her land certificate obtained from the Ethiopian Government with USAID assistance. Photo credit: Links Media

Land grabbing, as it is often called, happens every day in the developing world where weak laws and policies allow businesses and governments—through naiveté or outright greed—to latch on to property that belongs to someone else, and to sell or lease it to the highest bidder.

Adopted in May by the U.N. Committee on World Food Security, the 35-page document (PDF) sets out principles to guide countries in designing and implementing laws that govern property rights over land, fisheries and forests for agricultural and other uses.

As it is officially known, the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security is designed “so that both investors can invest with some kind of certainty that their investments will be secure and, at the same time, those people who hold the resources or the assets—the people who have the land in the countries where we work—will also have some certainty that they will be able to benefit from the investments that are made,” says Gregory Myers, USAID’s division chief for land tenure and property rights and chair of the negotiations for the guidelines.

USAID is keenly interested in the guidelines, not only because of the inherent economic benefits of secure property rights for individuals and communities, but because of what that can mean for the Feed the Future initiative, the U.S. Government’s effort to ramp up agricultural development in food-insecure countries.

“In many ways, that’s really at the heart of our (Feed the Future) strategy—on one hand encouraging the private sector, and on the other hand supporting smallholder farmers,” Myers said.

“Between 800 million and a billion people go to bed hungry at night, and the number is growing,” he explained. “Clearly, we need to do something to promote agriculture … but that means there has to be investment in agriculture. So the bottom line is that we have to find a way to bring private-sector investment into this equation. And the only way that’s going to happen sustainably and in a way that’s not going to lead to a lot of violence or conflict is that we’re going to have to address the issue of property rights.”

Read the rest of the article in FrontLines.

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USAID Assists Timor-Leste in Developing Land Policies, Ending Conflict

A nation formed just 10 years ago, Timor-Leste struggles to overcome complex challenges of land ownership and use rights that were created under Portuguese and Indonesian rule. Competing land claims between individuals, and between individuals and the state, are quite common and occasionally result in armed conflict and deaths. Complicating the problem is the absence of a property rights legal framework in which to address land matters. Many hope that a new land law that will be introduced to Parliament at the beginning of 2013 will help address many of the ambiguities currently present in the land and property sector.

This month, experts from USAID’s Land Tenure and Property Rights Division in Washington are in Timor-Leste to help advance work in the land and property sector. Their work builds upon nine years of engagement in the land sector by the U.S. Embassy and USAID Mission in Dili.

Ambassador Fergin hands out a claims certificate at a ceremony in Liquica, Timor-Leste. Photo Credit: Tetra Tech.

“Establishing a clear, predictable land tenure system is essential for Timor-Leste’s development as it will provide a means to resolve disputes without violence and set a sturdy foundation for economic growth,” explained U.S. Ambassador to Timor-Leste, Judith Fergin.

USAID is currently assisting the Government of Timor-Leste as it develops provisions in the draft land law that promote and clarify the property rights of communities and individuals. Meetings with government officials and members of Parliament revealed solid commitments to promote ownership rights and fairness. Once a land law is in place, residents will finally be able to obtain legal security of land holdings or use the legal framework to contest competing claims and settle disputes. Parliamentary and government leaders have said that passage of the land law is a top priority in 2013.

In anticipation of a national land law, USAID began a project in 2007 that strengthened the country’s cadastral and land registration systems. The project, branded Ita Nia Rai, which in Tetum means “Our Land,” also increased people’s understanding of their rights and responsibilities through public information awareness activities. The project registered more than 50,000 claims to urban land in all 13 districts across the country. After the claims were recorded, communities were given the opportunity to confirm or contest the claims in the area. Uncontested claims to property are eligible for property claims certificates from the government. According to the most recent version of the Land Law before Parliament, certificates issued by the government under the project will mature into a full title after five years. Certificates already issued have reduced conflict, promoted investment and strengthened governance. The transparent process has established a rich database that will form the basis of a national property cadaster.

When the project ended in September 2012, the Ministry of Justice, through the National Directorate of Land, Property and Cadastral Services, requested the transfer of ownership for Ita Nia Rai and is working to integrate the community-driven process into its business operations. The directorate, recognizing the benefits to Timorese, plans to expand the claims registration process to other high priority areas throughout the country in the coming years.

USAID Mission Director in Timor-Leste blogged on this topic last year.

For more information on land tenure work in Timor-Leste, visit the USAID Land Tenure and Property Rights Portal.

Follow USAID Timor-Leste on Facebook and Twitter.

FrontLines Feature: In Old Kenyan Town, It’s No Longer Just ‘Old Wise Men’

This originally appeared in FrontLines, November/December 2012 issue.

With the groundbreaking election of 11 female village elders, a USAID-backed pilot project seeks more equitable governance and protection of women’s assets.

Parakuo Naimodu is an unlikely success story. A mother of 11 children, she has lived in the town of Ol Posimoru in southern Kenya for years—at one time, with a husband who beat and verbally abused her. Only five of her 11 (four sons and one daughter) children finished school.

To resolve her domestic troubles, Naimodu sought the help of the local elders. Elders traditionally hold the authority to decide disputes that bind both men and women in Kenya’s villages. Naimodu hoped they would help intervene to stop her husband’s beatings. But the elders, all men, sided with her husband. And bringing a case against him only led to more abuse when she returned home.

Parakuo Naimodu, center, graduates from the Justice Project training, with Caroline Lentupuru, a gender resource specialist with Landesa, at right. Photo Credit: Deborah Espinosa

The couple eventually separated, but Naimodu’s husband continued to verbally abuse her whenever they passed in the village.

This all changed on July 10, when Naimodu and 10 other women in Ol Pusimoru, an area with a population of about 2,500, were formally elected as elders.

Elders meet on an as-needed basis to resolve land and other disputes, including family problems. They help to resolve everything from boundary disputes and trespassing to cattle rustling and criminal cases, including rape. Depending on the case, hearings are held with testimony by both parties and witnesses, and site visits help the elders to gather information. Elders may impose various penalties, including fines in the form of livestock or chickens, apologies to the aggrieved party, and other forms of punishment. Decisions may be appealed to a government court, but the court system is expensive and often intimidating for women.

Once Naimodu became an elder and an expert in her legal rights, her life dramatically changed. Her husband stopped harassing her. She says that he heard she was trained in women’s constitutional rights and a recognized member of the dispute-resolution system. “[H]e knows he cannot interfere with my life anymore without facing the consequences,” she explains.

Naimodo and her sister elders are all beneficiaries of USAID’s pilot project, the Kenya Justice Project (KJP), designed to help village elders and other justice officials support and enforce women’s rights to land and to have a say in how forest resources are governed.

The 11 woman elders have broken the mold in a country where women’s rights to equal participation in society are still very fragile, according to Deborah Espinosa, Africa program director for Landesa, the implementing NGO that works to secure land and property rights for marginalized groups around the world.

“Thanks to Kenya’s new constitution, gender equality is now a legal requirement. Women have greater legal protection of their rights to own and inherit property and to share in marital property,” says Espinosa. “The important challenge now is for Kenyans to know about these rights and to protect and enforce them in a country where women are not traditionally property owners,” she says, explaining that male relatives frequently sell family land without consulting women; and that women are routinely thrown out of marital homes by in-laws when husbands die, plunging them and their children into dire circumstances.

This kind of family-based “land grabbing” is widespread in Kenya, Espinosa says. “With their male counterparts, the women elders may help to bring an end to these harmful practices by enforcing the law.”

“The [Kenya Justice] project helps women and girls learn about their legal rights and it builds skills so that they can take on a bigger role in decision making in their homes and in their communities. This project also works with men and boys so that they understand how women contribute to the community,” says Achieng Akemu, senior rule of law adviser at USAID…[continued]

Read the rest of the article on FrontLines.

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