World Day to Combat Desertification: INTERFACES explores linkages between land rights and sustainable land use in Africa

More than one-third of farmland worldwide is at risk of desertification. Women are the primary workers on Africa's fields. But they often have too few rights to invest in sustainable agriculture. INTERFACES is developing solutions.

The United Nations (UN) has designated June 17 as World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. Around the world, soil degradation – the decline in soil fertility – is becoming an ever greater challenge to food security.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has already identified 2021: „As agriculture intensifies, converging evidence indicates the extent and severity of land degradation (...), where soil is eroded, nutrients are depleted and salinity increases. Human-induced degradation affects 35 percent (1 660 million ha) of agricultural land."

This year's UN World Day to Combat Desertification focuses on the theme: "Her Land, Her Rights". This is because the declining fertility of agricultural soils and water scarcity as a result of land overuse and climate change are hitting women and adolescent girls particularly hard: In the traditional communities of small farmers in western and southern Africa, women are primarily responsible for field work and for fetching drinking water, which is becoming increasingly time-consuming. Yet women have limited access to land, or land ownership. As a result, it is often not possible for them to obtain the necessary loans to enable investments in sustainable land management, for example.

In individual cases, women's access to land rights can vary a lot. Depending on age, education, income, ethnicity, religion and region, some women in southern and western Africa may own property. However, there are no truly reliable figures on this. What is certain is, that the majority of rural women have little access to land rights, credit or agricultural inputs, and thus little influence on land use.

INTERFACES supports research projects to advance sustainable land management through gender equality

This is where the INTERFACES project comes in. It is accompanying the BMBF funding measure "Sustainable Land Management in Sub-Saharan Africa". The project team is supporting four research projects in their efforts to promote change for sustainable land management in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the current state of research, gender equality is an important basis for this.

Gender studies, such as those conducted by INTERFACES, will reveal whether and to what extent climate change and land degradation affect men and women differently, and what solutions exist for a more balanced distribution of land rights.

Among smallholder farmers, these studies aim to make visible the mechanisms of gender inequality in access to land ownership and management. Inequality is evident, for example, in who gets to make decisions about staff or agricultural inputs – such as the purchase of equipment or fertilizer. In doing so, the studies will highlight the ways in which existing power structures and social norms impede gender equality.

The INTERFACES project team also advises researchers in their field work on how, for example, questionnaires and field trials for sustainable agricultural practices can be designed in a gender-sensitive way in order to obtain more differentiated situation analyses. Based on this, the INTERFACES project team will develop application-oriented solutions so that women and men can benefit equally from measures in the land sector and be placed on an equal footing.

As possible solutions, the INTERFACES project identifies, for example, practical and strategic needs in the relationship between women and men, such as a more balanced division of labor and more voice in land management and, not least, financial security.

Ghana offers examples of better distribution of land rights and more sustainable land use

For new development paths, successful examples are of special interest. In Ghana, for example, women have begun to bypass traditional gender-based barriers to land ownership and win access to land for themselves. One way they do this, is by obtaining land by leasing it from other community members and giving half of the proceeds as rent ("shared copping arrangements"). Alternatively, some women form a small group and ask the local community leader for an area of land to share. By disposing of more land rights, women can also be more self-determined about investing in more sustainable land management. As a result, many of them are now more frequently becoming "change agents" – that is, multipliers for change.

In order to adapt to climate change and avoid desertification, it is important to consider and implement gender-relevant issues in all agricultural activities in research and development projects from the very beginning. The results of the INTERFACES project are made accessible to local people through dialog forums, learning platforms and networks.


The project "INTERFACES" supports development paths for sustainable agriculture in the BMBF funding measure "Sustainable Land Management in Sub-Saharan Africa". INTERFACES is a project that accompanies and supports four BMBF-funded regional research projects in driving change for sustainable land management in sub-Saharan Africa.

Therefore, INTERFACES is advancing the networking of the research projects with regional and international actors or partners – including UNCCD and UNFCC. In addition, INTERFACES supports science communication, societal learning processes and capacity development. Moreover, it produces complementary transfer analyses that enable the implementation of policies and improve the reach of findings from the research projects.

In this regard, INTERFACES is mainly active in West Africa with a focus on Ghana, Benin and Togo. In addition, issue-relevant developments in other African countries such as Senegal, Kenya and Namibia are being investigated.

The project's guiding thesis is, that achieving transformative change toward sustainable land management requires restructuring technological, economic, political, and social frameworks. The changes must be gender-responsive and inclusive for all social classes.
The INTERFACES collaborative project is funded by the BMBF from 01.10.2022 to 30.09.2026 with more than 2.5 million Euros.