When Rachel McMonagle went to Ukraine as an Agricultural Policy Research Fellow with the Fulbright Program back in 2013, she was excited to put the methodology she had learned studying small farmers and their climate resilience strategies in her undergrad to work.

But what the young climate advocate discovered surprised her. At meeting after meeting with different governmental offices focused on agriculture, rural development, and food security, she started asking questions about soil quality, climate change, and water access.

“And what kept coming up was land tenure and land rights,” McMonagle says.

Since Ukraine’s independence from the USSR in 1991, the land market had shifted from a collectivized model where small famers and families were owning land in groups, to a more individualized landholding model.

Since the transition happened so quickly, McMonagle says, the boundaries were not clearly defined, and many farmers were left without their land—or their rights.

“There was a lack of clarity around who owned what and what could be done with those plots of land.”

The government responded by putting a moratorium on agricultural land sales.

“And so, it created a culture of leasing land, and there was no incentive to really be caring for the soil or thinking long term about the ecological health of that plot of land,” she explains.

The lesson McMonagle took from that experience was how vital a role land rights and ownership played in everything from ecological health to access to healthcare, clean water, and economic empowerment.

“It underlies all of them,” McMonagle says. “And I think land is not discussed as loudly as it needs to be in all of those contexts.”

Since then, McMonagle has been getting people to listen—to how land tenure is a core component of any effective climate solution, and how when populations such as women and Indigenous people own their own land, the impacts build stronger climate resilience within communities and better stewardship of natural resources.

Read the full article about Rachel McMonagle by Amber Cortes at Global Washington.