For smallholders, nomadic cattle farmers or indigenous communities in rural areas covered by HEKS/EPER projects, legally documented access to a plot of farmland as well as to pasturelands and forests is a key precondition for a self-determined life free of hunger and poverty. The main focus of HEKS/EPER development cooperation is therefore supporting rural communities in claiming their right to own and use the land that they inhabit and work.
Some 2.6 billion people or 34 per cent of the world's population live mainly from agriculture. Eighty-five per cent of them are peasant farmers working less than two hectares of land. Yet in Asia, Africa and Latin America, these small scale farming families produce most of the food from the tiniest plots of land. For these people, access to a piece of land is a basic prerequisite for their food security and income.
Over 70 per cent of those affected by poverty worldwide are rural dwellers. Given the scarcity of alternative income streams in rural areas, people depend heavily on agriculture. But securing a permanent income from it is proving ever more difficult. This is the result of increasingly drastic cuts in Government support in many countries over recent decades. There is a lack of infrastructure, machinery, storage and transport facilities, access to micro credits or to educational and advisory services. Besides, many peasant farmers are being forced out of the market by large domestic and foreign producers, or cannot sell their produce at fair prices.
Homeland and identity
Access to land does not merely denote food security and economic independence, but also homeland and cultural identity. In many HEKS/EPER project areas, smallholder families risk losing the land which in many cases they have worked for generations – owing to land speculation, government expropriation and illegal land grabbing by local and foreign investors. Without their own land, smallholder families are as good as homeless and also robbed of their cultural roots and perspectives.
Advisory services – networking – inclusive market
HEKS/EPER thus views «access to land» as secured land ownership and/or land use rights and long-term empowerment to manage and use land productively and sustainably. HEKS/EPER and its local partner organizations therefore inform rural dwellers of their rights and how to claim and realize them. Locally they also undertake mediation and networking between the various civil society players, the business community and the authorities. Lastly, HEKS/EPER and its local partners advise and support smallholder families in building up and running profitable, ecological farming operations promoting an inclusive markets.