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Opinion

To combat hunger, give land rights to world's poor women

A lack of land rights for the poor fuels global hunger. With no ownership, land is poorly cultivated, and families subsist as day laborers or indentured servants. Giving land to the poor, especially women, allows them to grow food for their families and sell crops to pay for education.

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That impact goes even further. A study in Ghana showed that when women own a larger share of the household’s land, families allocate a larger proportion of the household budget to food. Similarly, a study in Nicaragua and Honduras found that families spend more on food when the woman of the house owns land.

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Women with secure rights to land are also more likely to control income and have higher status in the household and community. Women are more likely than men to make decisions that increase a household’s nutrition and to spend income on the family. In fact, low-income female-headed households often have better nutrition than male-headed households with higher incomes.

Furthermore, women with higher status have better nutrition themselves, and we know that mothers with better nutrition are more likely to have higher birth-weight children, a factor in reducing the likelihood of stunted growth. In Nepal, research showed that the likelihood that a child is severely underweight is reduced by half if the child’s mother owns land.

At stake are the lives of 2.3 million children worldwide who die each year from hunger and so much more.

Just this May, Save the Children’s Food for Thought report found that malnourished children are much less likely to succeed in school. The report explained that children who are malnourished in their first two years grow up smaller and weaker, a condition known as stunting. These children often suffer developmental delays and can go on to earn 20 percent less income than those who are well nourished.

The report, based on studies of children in Ethiopia, India, Peru, and Vietnam, found that malnourished children face basic literacy and numeracy problems.

Landesa joins Save the Children, UNICEF, and other nongovernmental organizations calling on world leaders to commit to tackling malnutrition immediately. Increasing support for land rights will lead to better nutritional outcomes for children worldwide, and help to provide food for the 165 million children currently suffering from malnutrition.

Amanda Richardson is an attorney and land tenure specialist with Landesa, a global development non-profit that works to secure land rights for the world’s poor. Follow the group @Landesa_Global.

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