By Roger Thurow
This post is part of a series developed by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Landesa to highlight the importance of securing land rights for smallholder farmers. This series is running concurrently with the World Bank’s 2014 Land and Poverty Conference taking place in Washington, D.C. Follow the conversation on Twitter with hashtag #landrights
A great worry had barged into the little house of Leonida and Peter Wanyama in western Kenya. They had been called to the office of the local chief. There was a demand that they turn over part of their land.
Leonida was fuming as she related to me what they had been told: another woman in the area was claiming she had purchased the land years earlier. Peter argued that he never sold the land – never would! – and he had the deed to prove it. His signature wasn’t on any of the sale documents that were presented. Peter suspected his identification card had been copied and then used to sell his land without him knowing it.
Leonida is one of four smallholder farmers in western Kenya I profiled in my new book, The Last Hunger Season. I followed the farmers for a year, throughout 2011, and I came to appreciate their attachment and deep commitment to the land, which created a pride of place and a dedication to sustainable farming that would preserve the land for generations to come.
Land was very dear to all Kenyan farmers, particularly the smallholders. It was uncertain land rights that had held back agricultural development in many African