Like the air you breathe, you may not spend a lot of time thinking about the land you live on.

But for many communities and individuals in low- and middle-income countries, land is life—”their entire world is access to land and natural resources, both from an income front and for food security,” says Rachel McMonagle, the climate change and land tenure specialist at Landesa, an organization working to secure land rights for people experiencing poverty, discrimination and economic inequality around the world.

When it comes to conversations about climate change, human rights and sustainable development, McMonagle says, people don’t seem to recognize the vital role of land in climate resilience, and how it can be a powerful tool for good.

“I think there’s a disconnect, especially for a lot of people in the U.S., that we just take property rights and rights to natural resources for granted,” she continues.

For the Global North, land rights are pretty much a settled issue. But even though at least half the world’s land and natural resources (some say as much as 65%) are managed by local communities and Indigenous people, they only have formal legal ownership of 10 percent of that land.

This imbalance, McMonagle says, opens up the door for corporate interests or outside land grabs from logging and mining companies, or other ‘outside actors’ coming in who may be disrupting centuries of sustainable land management due to this lack of legal land rights.

As a global nonprofit with over five decades of experience, Landesa’s impact spans different geographies, land uses and communities, working with farmers, forest communities, and pastoralists to secure land tenure—because land ownership leads to greater financial and food security, and can open up opportunities in health care, education and political power within communities.

Land ownership also encourages more investments in the land itself—investments with long-term environmental benefits such as agricultural practices like terracing the land, tree planting, or investing in sustainable infrastructure development.

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