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Source: Small Island Developing States

Land is key to food production and the most important capital for farmers. In the western Kenyan county of Kakamega county, land has become a scarce good. The need to feed a growing population puts tremendous pressure on land.

Farmers with little or no land turn to leasing land. Lease arrangements are, however, not secure for land tenants in Western Kenya. In the absence of regulated land lease markets, numerous issues arise – landowners renege on informal lease agreements made without witnesses, crops are damaged without compensation, and conflicts over arbitrary change of boundaries are common. Under these conditions, farmers struggle to invest into their leased land, and consequently, to enhance agricultural production. This creates a serious obstacle to sustainable rural development.

Local solutions through Community-led Processes

To address the chronic challenge of insecure land lease agreements, TMG Research gGmbH, in close collaboration with the grassroots women’s organization Shibuye Community Health Workers (Shibuye CHW), facilitated a pioneer process of developing land lease guidelines with two local communities in Kakamega County. These community-led lease guidelines have provided a welcome solution. Within a period of 20 months, as many as 105 lease agreements were formally recorded, creating precedence in a context where only informal agreements had existed.

The success in the uptake of the guidelines demonstrated that even for highly sensitive issues such as land tenure, social innovations encapsulating novel solutions to social problems could be developed. A pre-condition was that these were rooted and co-developed with the communities that experienced the challenges at hand.

An All-inclusive Process under Community Leadership

“This has been a very consultative process where communities have been involved to draw their own guidelines that spell leasing information details such as how you confirm that this land belongs to the right person.”- Violet Shivutse, Director of Shibuye CHW

To ensure that the needs and capacities of the communities that were the prospective users of the land lease guidelines were met, the pilot communities drove the guideline development. Community members formulated key issues they experienced in land leasing, which served as terms of reference for the guidelines. Furthermore, they nominated community representatives to draft the guidelines.

Local institutional stakeholders, such as the area administration, the county ministries of agriculture and lands, and associated governmental institutions, contributed to the design and approval of the final guidelines. These multi-stakeholder consultations ensured conformity of the guidelines with existing formal governance structures. This way, the communities that would use the guidelines, and institutional stakeholders who acted as custodians of agreements, developed ownership of the process and its outcomes.

Continuous Monitoring and Adaptation to New Challenges

The process of developing the lease guidelines did not stop at dissemination. In anticipation of emerging challenges, community committees continue to monitor guideline implementation. Their mandate is to observe compliance with the lease agreements and mediate potential and arising conflicts. The committees consolidate new issues not currently covered by the guidelines and are able to incorporate these in a revised edition of the guidelines. This will assure the guidelines are continuously updated and adapted to changing conditions.

Going beyond Pilots

In the two pilot communities, land-constrained farmers can now augment household food supply and income, as well as invest in soil protection and fertility improvement, because they are assured that they will retain rights over leased land as per lease agreements. To date, Shibuye CHW has supported youth and women groups in applying the guidelines on the land they collectively lease. Through the group lease, the members now have sufficient land area to set up demonstration plots on which they practice conservation agriculture. Farmers from neighboring wards have requested support to develop their own land lease guidelines as a response to conflicts over leased land. Furthermore, the Governor of Kakamega County and the minister in charge of agriculture have praised the process and provided suggestions for scaling it up to the whole county.

Secure Access to Land as a Condition for Climate-resilient Agriculture

The 2030 Agenda, and particularly SDG 1 (No poverty), SDG 2 (Zero hunger) and 15 (Life on land), will not be achieved in rural contexts if those dependent on land still have challenges accessing it. Policy-makers and practitioners have discussed this issue extensively at the Global Soil Week 2019, a global platform for dialogue and action on sustainable soil management and responsible land governance. They concluded that smallholder farmers’ secured access to land was a core condition for sustainable and climate resilient agriculture. They further reiterated the need for endorsement and institutionalization of locally developed strategies for securing land access to provide enabling conditions for their upscaling.


The pilot process in Kakamega County shows that local solutions to sensitive issues, such as land access, can be found if communities, NGOs, government and researchers join hands. The role of the local grassroot organization enjoying strong ties in the community is critical in ensuring broad and active participation. The high resonance of the lease agreements among the communities and other stakeholders is a testimony of the fact that local actors’ leadership role and ownership of processes is key in rural development and realizing the SDGs at the local level.

This article was written by Serah Kiragu-Wissler, TMG Research gGmbH, Nicolas Patt, TMG Research gGmbH, and Larissa Stiem-Bhatia, TMG Research gGmbH. To learn more about the process of the community-led land lease guidelines, alongside further social innovations facilitated by TMG Research visit, watch this film and read Facilitator’s Guide about the community-led land lease guidelines piloted in Kakamega County. To further engage in discussions on innovating local social processes for sustainable land management and achievement of the SDGs, follow @tmg_think and @globalsoilweek. Contact: or

Disclaimer: The piloted process on securing land access for land-constrained rural households in Western Kenya is part of a research project under the special initiative ‘One World – No Hunger,’ and is financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

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