Download the Issue Brief.

Commentary by Chad Dear, USAID, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science Policy Fellow.

“Do no harm”—the notion that we must consider, avoid, and mitigate the possible harm that any intervention might do—is a fundamental principle of humanitarian assistance and development. What concrete steps can you take to ensure that this principle is inviolate? Further, how can you use social impact assessments to better ensure that your intervention not only “does no harm”, but actually does good? USAID’s Land Office recently released the Land and Resource Tenure and Social Impacts Issue Brief, which describes land-related social impacts and their importance to USAID programming. Taking account of these social impacts is essential to ensuring that projects do not inadvertently cause harm, undermine USAID’s development objectives, contravene existing policy commitments, or erode public support for USAID operations.

The Issue Brief on Land and Resource Tenure and Social Impacts outlines concrete measures that USAID and others can take to safeguard against potential adverse social impacts of development interventions.


By M. Mercedes Stickler, Senior Land Governance and Evaluation Advisor in USAID’s Land Tenure and Resource Management Office. This commentary originally appeared on USAID's Impact Blog.

At an event marking five years since the release of USAID’s Evaluation Policy, USAID Administrator Gayle Smith noted, “Development is aspirational, but it’s also a discipline.” I couldn’t agree more.

As a researcher and practitioner, I approach development with a scientist’s eye: I draw on the best available evidence and carefully measure the impact of our programs to better serve our beneficiaries and maximize our limited funds. Together, let’s examine how USAID is learning from our experience and investing in rigorous impact evaluations in partnership with local stakeholders.

But aren’t impact evaluations difficult and expensive? Don’t they take years to show results? Is it ethical to “withhold” benefits from people in order to run a scientific experiment? I hear these questions often. For the past three years, I have managed a portfolio of eight land and resource governance impact evaluations across sub-Saharan Africa.

To learn about the 5 common misconceptions and lessons learned and, visit USAID's Impact Blog >>


By Heath Cosgrove, Director, USAID’s E3/Land Office.

Four years ago, the global community came together in historic fashion to agree, for the first time ever, on a common set of standards and practices for strengthening land and resource rights: the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT). Negotiated and endorsed by a broad coalition of government, civil society, and private sector representatives at the UN Committee on World Food Security, the VGGT helped define and organize a global movement for addressing one of today’s most important development issues – land rights.

USAID is proud to be a part of that movement. Now, as both one of the largest bilateral donors working in the land sector and as the Chair of the Global Donor Working Group on Land—a network of 23 bilateral and multilateral donors committed to improving land governance worldwide—we have an opportunity to reflect on our achievements and learnings as we take stock of four years of VGGT implementation.

The Global Donor Working Group on Land—which collectively represents 678 land governance projects in 131 countries—recently released a Policy Brief outlining our joint position on the status of VGGT implementation. We believe that for the VGGT to be implemented effectively, we must understand and learn from how they are applied in different countries and contexts. For a movement as global and decentralized as ours, this is quite a challenge. Nonetheless, the Global Donor Working Group on Land is leveraging its network to help take stock of how the VGGT have been applied over the last four years, and how they can be applied moving forward. We believe the following initiatives can help:

  • Building out and analyzing the global database of land and resource governance programs known as the Land Governance Program Map
  • Developing a framework for stocktaking on VGGT and establishing a baseline
  • Tying VGGT reporting to country-level SDG reporting
  • Establishing and furthering joint monitoring or learning partnerships for responsible investment

These recommendations, along with insights from other stakeholders, will be presented and discussed at this year’s Committee on World Food Security meetings in October. We look forward to continuing the dialogue on making the promise of the VGGT a reality for women and men around the globe.

Stay up to date on the latest news and resources on strengthening land and resource governance by joining our email list.


With the increasing global demand for chocolate, maintaining optimal cocoa productivity is critical. For the Government of Ghana, unlocking barriers to cocoa productivity could bring significant economic growth opportunities.

Cocoa production is fundamental to Ghana’s economy. Cocoa is Ghana’s chief agricultural export and main cash crop (accounting for more than 9 percent of agricultural GDP), and the cocoa sector employs approximately 800,000 farm families.

Yet, despite significant investments, cocoa production in Ghana does not meet market expectations. Ghana’s cocoa productivity still trails that of other cocoa producing nations, such as Cote d’Ivoire and Indonesia, and as worldwide demand for cocoa increases, Ghana’s cocoa supply is not keeping pace with growing demand.

Why is cocoa production lagging behind, despite massive investment by the private sector as well as by the government? The answer may lie partly with the land tenure insecurity faced by Ghana’s cocoa farmers, many of whom work as sharecroppers on land held by absentee landlords and urban elites.

In April 2015, USAID’s Land Office teamed up with the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) and the Ghana Cocoa Board (Cocobod) to investigate the relationship between land tenure security among Ghana’s cocoa farmers and overall cocoa productivity. The team’s findings have been memorialized in the tripartite USAID-WCF-Cocobod report: Assessment of Land Tenure-Related Constraints to Cocoa Productivity in Ghana.

The team found a strong correlation between insecure land tenure arrangements and reduced farm productivity, particularly related to ineffective on-farm investments, replanting of old and diseased cocoa trees, and the insufficient understanding of sustainable agroforestry methods. Cocoa farms are often unmapped and farmers lack land documentation. Tenant farmers lack written contractual arrangements with landowners and are hesitant to replant old or diseased cocoa trees for fear that by cutting down the tree they would relinquish their access to the land it stands on.

Given these uncertainties, and in the context of increasing pressures on land in Ghana, farmers do not feel empowered to make on-farm decisions aimed at boosting productivity. That, in turn, has led to declining health in cocoa farms: old and diseased trees are not cut down and replaced; trees are not properly pruned; and fertilizer is misapplied.

For the cocoa industry, which is racing to meet increasing global demand for chocolate, addressing barriers to productivity is critical. For the Government of Ghana, unlocking the productivity puzzle can mean significant economic growth opportunities.

With these motivations factors in mind, the team put forth a series of joint recommendations aimed at better understanding, and addressing, land tenure insecurities affecting Ghana’s cocoa farmers. The recommendations include supporting further household-level research aimed at understanding the land tenure arrangements and tenure-related constraints within Ghana’s cocoa sector; consolidating existing cocoa farm data onto a single, easily accessible and open map; and documenting landowner-tenant contracts through a simple, flexible template, paired with farmer-landowner education on the benefits of documenting tenancy arrangements. These recommendations are expected to incentivize cocoa farmers to invest in productivity-boosting measures as well as sustainable agro-forestry methods, ultimately boosting Ghana’s cocoa productivity while improving rural livelihoods.

USAID, the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana, and WCF are already working on the first recommendation – supporting the expansion and completion of a baseline survey aimed at better understanding tenure arrangements and constraints among cocoa farmers. The results of this survey will be publicly available and can further inform future cocoa value chain management decisions.

For USAID’s Land Office, the partnership with WCF and Cocobod presents an exciting new opportunity to collaborate with the private sector to influence responsible agro-forestry practices and productivity gains, while at the same time meeting USAID development objectives related to equitable tenure security, food security, and economic growth.


By M. Mercedes Stickler, Senior Land Governance and Evaluation Advisor in USAID’s Land Tenure and Resource Management Office. This commentary originally appeared on Agrilinks.

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that stronger land tenure security has a positive impact on important development outcomes, such as improved farming practices, agricultural productivity, and, importantly, women’s empowerment. While the initial evidence is encouraging, notable knowledge gaps remain. Compared with the positive economic and food security gains seen from land tenure formalization programs in Asia and Latin America, results from similar programs in Africa have been mixed. There is also little evidence on the impact of strengthening customary tenure and very little evidence that is gender-disaggregated, let alone gender-sensitive.

In this context, USAID is conducting eight rigorous impact evaluations of programs—primarily in customary land tenure settings—in Ethiopia, Guinea, Liberia, Tanzania and Zambia to test development questions relevant to empowering women, enhancing food security, and eliminating extreme poverty. These evaluations are using gender-sensitive methods to better understand how these programs may affect women and men differently.

To read the full post, visit Agrilinks >>

To learn more about USAID's land tenure impact evaluations, visit the Evidence Hub >>



The information provided on this Web site is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.