Taking land reform global
In academia as well as the nonprofit world, so many ideas abound that it can be hard to pinpoint which exact line of thought prompted the inception of a great project. This is not the case for Landesa. Founded by law professor Roy Prosterman and a group of dedicated researchers and lawyers, the organization finds its inspiration in Prosterman’s 1967 response to a law review that promoted land confiscation. His paper, “Land Reform in Latin America: How to Have a Revolution without a Revolution,” helped spark international interest in “land to the tiller” programs, which give land rights to the people who cultivate it. Since then, faithful to Prosterman’s early vision, Landesa has helped strengthen land rights for more than 115 million families, or over 450 million people.
To achieve this, Landesa works with governments and local organizations to extend land rights to the rural poor. These tailored solutions do far more than simply apply short-term bandages to the problems affecting farmers. Strengthening land rights provides the security, stability, and incentive for farmers to make longer-term investments in cultivation. Such investments allow farmers and their families to prosper. Once the rural poor are secure in their land rights, gains in other indicators of development become much more achievable. Since Landesa works primarily at the national level, these transformations are long lasting and take place at scale.
The organization’s success at building support for land reform – and its concern at the ongoing global land rush – has prompted Landesa to reach for more. After the FAO adopted Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests, Landesa launched the “how-to guides” or “playbooks” of the Legend Program to help stakeholders comply with international standards to improve land governance and investment practices. Compliance with these standards will ensure that smallholders, communities, and investors all benefit from land investments. The playbooks are based on field research and stakeholder input and are adaptable to different cultural contexts.
Landesa is the archetype of what NGO Advisor considers to be the promise of the nonprofit sector. The organization tackles a huge and extremely difficult issue with a staff of less than 150. Its success far exceeds its size. And while it was once an outlier in the NGO realm, it has evolved into an inspiring and impactful organization that is now both an icon and a reference.