Access to Land, the Household, and Food Security: Exploring gendered links in Rural South India
Despite sufficient food production on the national level, an estimated 37% to 60% of households in India are food insecure. Food security is defined as when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Food security rests on four pillars; food availability, accessibility, utility, and stability. When food security is limited or uncertain, there is food insecurity. In rural India, land is one of the most important assets determining command over food, but not all rural household own land. Social inequalities based on caste and gender permeate access to land among social actors and result in food insecurity among certain groups of people. This dissertation investigates the links between access to land and household food (in)security in rural South India by answering two research questions: 1) What is the impact of gendered social practices on access to land in rural South India and why? 2) What is the role of access to land in household food security and why? To answer these questions, three theories are adopted and combined into an analytical framework: the entitlement approach, a bargaining approach, and a bundle of rights metaphor. The entitlement approach, developed by Amartya Sen, analyses famine or starvation as a problem of food accessibility rather than availability, as different social actors have different capabilities to obtain command over food. A bargaining approach considers interaction between social actors through cooperative conflict in which the outcome depends on respective bargaining powers. The entitlement approach and bargaining approach both consider property as important in entitlements and bargaining, but property relations are not always equivalent to ownership. A bundle of rights metaphor explains property relations as representing a broader range of arrangements including, but not limited to, ownership. Using ethnography, this study is based on data collected through five-and-a-half months of fieldwork, which included conducting interviews, participant observation, and a household survey. The main findings resulting from this research are 1) women rarely own land but are unconcerned by their lack of landownership; households’ struggle for a sustainable livelihood results in women’s views that the intra-household distribution of landownership is insignificant, except in circumstances of a household break-up through divorce or widowhood. This finding affects the usefulness of the bargaining approach for analysing links between women’s landownership and women’s intra-household bargaining power for poor households; 2) hunger and starvation are not prevalent in the research area because of the food rations provided through the Public Distribution System; 3) households depending on agricultural wage labour as main source of livelihood are most vulnerable to food insecurity; 4) landless households with non-agricultural livelihoods are less vulnerable to food insecurity compared to marginal and small farmers; 5) the bundle of rights derived from access to land is not found to predict vulnerability to food insecurity, but does determine how land can contribute to household food security and it determines farmers’ opportunities to invest in cultivation; 6) landownership does not equal control over land; women who own arable land have little influence over land management, while women with (temporarily) absent husbands have more control over land management despite not owning the land. An intra-household transfer of landownership does not result in a shift in bargaining positions or a shift in control over land; 7) intra-household allocation of food is equal in type of food and based on need and preference in quantity of food. No evidence is found to indicate that particular household members consistently consume insufficient amounts of food or less diverse food compared to other household members. Therefore, there is no evidence to support a link between the intra-household distribution of landownership and intra-household food allocation.
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