Security of tenure exerts tremendous influence on how land and resources are used. Secure tenure can be defined as the certainty that a person’s rights to continuous use of land or resources will be recognized and protected against challenges from individuals or the state. This kind of certainty provides an incentive to make long-term investments in maintaining or enhancing the productivity of that property. For instance, a person with the right to use an agricultural field for decades or a lifetime may invest in an irrigation system whereas a farmer leasing a field for only a year will not (Bruce 1998a:2).
(See Box 3.1 Understanding The Scope Of Resource Tenure.)
When insecurity of tenure acts as a disincentive to longterm investments in soil conservation, irrigation, and the like, land quality can deteriorate and agricultural productivity suffer. For this reason, tenure reform is frequently a component of development projects aimed at enhancing food security and sustainable livelihoods for the rural poor. Tenure reform is distinct from land reform in that it does not redistribute parcels of land per se, but rather makes adjustments in the rights to hold and use land. Examples of land tenure reforms include strengthening informal tenure rights by making them legally enforceable and transforming state-issued permits for specific land uses into leases that provide more protection for users of the land (FAO 2002:20).
This is true as well for tenure rights over forests, fisheries, and other natural resources where the benefits of good stewardship can only be gained over time. For example, given their limited resources, it is unlikely that the poor would see a value in investing in sustainable forest management practices, including reforestation, if their tenure over forests is restricted and they can’t count on reaping the benefits of such practices. Tenure reform, in this context, would require addressing these tenure insecurities by providing longer time-frames for forest management agreements, or by recognizing the communal ownership rights of groups who have long occupied forest lands. Thus, one study of joint forest management agreements in India