Research findings from the land inequality initiative

Title animation
Arial image of an estuary system tinted dark blue

Executive Summary

In most countries, land inequality is growing.

Worse, new measures and analysis published in this synthesis report show that land inequality is significantly higher than previously reported.

The Lives of 1.4 Billion people in the world directly depend on land as a source of food, shelter and income.

In short, how we share and use land is key to the future of people and the planet.

The “uneven ground” in the title of this synthesis report is where the majority of rural people are increasingly finding themselves. This research report sheds new light on the scale and speed of growing land inequality.

It provides the most comprehensive picture available today, informed by 17 specially-commissioned research papers as well as analysis of existing data and literature. It lays out in detail the causes and consequences of land inequality, the contributing factors and interconnected global crises, and analyses potential solutions and offers a potential pathway to change.

Chapter 1 Why Land Inequality Matters

In the second half of the twentieth century, a prevailing view was that inequality created incentives for progress.

Today, it is clear that inequality is detrimental to the stability and development of sustainable economic systems and that it undermines the health of democracies.

Land inequality is no exception.

Land inequality sits at the heart of other forms of inequality. It is fundamentally related and often central to broader inequalities, such as wealth inequality, political inequality, social inequality, gender inequality and environmental inequality, in particular in agrarian societies. Land inequality also underlies contemporary global crises and trends, as reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals.

A duotoned image of a man driving a tractor.

Chapter 2 Framing land inequality, its centrality and its impact

Historically, land inequality has been measured in terms of differences in land ownership.

Yet land inequality is much more complex and multidimensional.

This initiative breaks new ground by bringing together the many facets of land inequality and analysing them comprehensively, to show what’s really happening on the ground.

Our approach includes four axes along which to analyse land inequality:

  1. the size and/or value of land that people access or hold;
  2. the level of security of tenure that people have;
  3. the actual control that people have, including their decision-making power over land;
  4. the control of the benefits from the land, such as the ability to appropriate value from it
A venn diagram showing the interrelationships             between land inequality and various issues and crises.

Chapter 3 The (shocking) state of land inequality in the world

Land inequality is a bigger problem than we thought, and is on the rise.

The need to address it is urgent, and it is in all our interests to do so.

New measurements show that the top 10% of the rural population captures 60% of agricultural land value, while the bottom 50% of the rural populations only control 3 % of land value.

Compared to traditional census data, this proves an increase in rural land inequality of 41%

Chapter 4 Land inequality solutions for resilient, sustainable and equitable societies

Land is a finite good, which cannot be grown or produced, and whose management has direct consequences for people and the environment. Land is not a commodity like any other.

Although land can be bought and sold, land markets are not likely to self-regulate. Without regulation, they almost inevitably become markets of exclusion and concentration where inequalities steadily increase. These unique characteristics mean that land markets developed independently of society cannot work in the common interest. Abolishing all forms of market and entrusting the management of land only to states and governments is not a solution either.

For more resilient, sustainable, and equitable societies, we need to reflect on new ways to address contemporary patterns of land inequality and their drivers.

Chapter 5 Conclusion: The urgent need to act on land equality

There is an urgent need to act on land inequality if humanity is to make any significant progress towards global sustainability, stability, and social justice.

As this report reveals, land inequality is greater than previously estimated, and it plays a role in numerous global challenges. Despite its importance, however, the tools to address it are weak and political will is not yet evident.

Change is necessary.