As agriculture becomes more productive, output per unit of land and per capita grows, incomes can be expected to rise, poverty reduces and food security (economic and physical access to safe and nutritious food) improves, leading to reinvestment in the rural economy.
In general, more intensive agriculture through irrigation has often arisen where the variability of rainfed production has proved intolerable.
However, intensive agriculture has not always resulted in more rural employment and in many cases public agencies with limited budgets have had to make choices about the most desirable styles of agriculture.
The Links between Poverty, Access to Land and Water, and Land Degradation
Worldwide, the poorest either have no land or have the lowest access to land and water, and low access to land is a predictor of poverty. In addition, poor resource management and type of farming system are also linked to poverty. The poorest often have the least diversified farming systems. However, not all the poor live in lands considered degraded.
Worldwide, only 16 percent of the poor live in degraded areas. Small changes in ecosystem health, in poor and populous areas have a significant effect irrespective of the current ecosystem status and are heavily dependent on ecosystem health and the small surpluses they obtain can be wiped out by small negative changes in system health.
A wide variety of monetary and non-monetary indicators have been used to assess poverty levels (Coudouel et al. 2002). FAO uses stunting among young children as a poverty-related chronic undernourishment measure (Gross et al. 1996; FAO and FIVIMS 2003).
Indeed, where a single indicator of poverty is sought, stunting prevalence is one of the most reliable and most suitable indicators for monitoring and assessing poverty (Simondon 2010). In sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, nearly half (45 percent) of the rural population are classified as poor.
The concentrations of rural poverty can be linked to marginal lands where access to land and water is uncertain. Commonly, poor farmers are locked in a poverty trap of small, remote plots with no secure tenure, poor-quality soils and high vulnerability to land degradation and climatic uncertainty.
At the same time, technologies and farming systems within their reach are typically low-management, low-input systems that often contribute to resource degradation.
However, improved farming systems can modify the relationship between land and water resources and poverty: the likelihood of being poor is much lower (less than half) when improved farming systems are employed (Hussain and Hanjra 2004).
Thus, improving land and water tenure arrangements and management practices in these areas is likely to have a direct positive impact on food insecurity and poverty (Lipton 2007).
Intensification and Poverty Reduction
The rapid productivity gains of the green revolution in Asia during the second half of the 20th century was achieved through technologies of nitrogen-responsive, short season cultivars and application of irrigation.
It helped create a springboard out of poverty in Asia, and provided the foundation for the broader economic and industrial development that has occurred in the last 20 years (World Bank 2005, Huang et al. 2006).
Empirical evidence for a sample of 40 countries shows that for each 1 percent improvement in crop productivity, poverty fell by 1 percent and the human development index rose by 0.1 percent (Irz et al. 2001).
However, it is important to emphasize that distribution of the benefits from increased production are not always equitable. In many cases it is the poorest losing both land and employment as a result of production intensification strategies, which could lower commodity prices locally and reduce income for poorer producers not engaged with farm intensification.
Systems of Land Allocation
Land management is underpinned by systems of allocation and tenure that provide access, security and incentives for profitable and sustainable use. Traditional land tenure systems may include protected rights, but often they are communally held.
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However, the pace of demographic and economic growth has created stresses over allocation and security of tenure, resulting in disputes over land and sometimes spilling over into conflict. In many cases, this has led to widespread appropriation of communal rights by the powerful.
At the same time, a variety of modern land tenure institutions have emerged. Formal and informal land tenure systems now overlap, although incorporating traditional institutions into modern ones remains a challenge.
Such institutional adaptation has tended to lag behind the economic and social changes it was intended to accommodate. Arguably, the lack of secure tenure combined with rigid land markets has resulted in under-investment in the use of resources.
In summary, in many cases it is the poorest losing both land and employment as a result of production intensification strategies.
Land management is underpinned by systems of allocation and tenure that provide access, security and incentives for profitable and sustainable use.
The concentrations of rural poverty can be linked to marginal lands where access to land and water is uncertain.
Worldwide, the poorest either have no land or have the lowest access to land and water, and low access to land is a predictor of poverty. Commonly, poor farmers are locked in a poverty trap of small, remote plots with no secure tenure, poor-quality soils and high vulnerability to land degradation and climatic uncertainty.