National and state govern­ments in India receive support from RDI to develop innovative programmes and laws to expand land rights for rural poor families.

Homestead plots are one key example. These house-and-garden plots, which may be as small as tennis courts, can be effective anti-poverty tools. The plots allow families to produce most of the fruits and vegetables they need, and to sell excess produce, providing a small income to supplement their earnings as wage laborers. That extra income can enable parents to pull their children out of the fields and place them in schools. Homestead plots also reduce malnutrition and boost health. And they are small enough that even the government’s constrained finances can afford to pay market prices to purchase and distribute enough land for the huge numbers of poor. In many cases, the poor are given ownership to government land they already occupy, further reducing costs.


The Rural Development Institute Trust was registered in May 2008. Prior to 2008, it was focused on field research in select Indian states. This research led to engagement with the national government on crafting land policy focused on the rural poor. These pro-poor policies serve as a foundation for RDI’s continued work in India as it partners with state and the national governments to develop and implement specific large-scale programmes. In addition, RDI Seattle (Landesa), a US-based land organisation decided to provide funding for implementing projects in three states and at the national level. To date, more than 400,000 families have benefited from RDI’s work in India. RDI’s national office is located in New Delhi and works in partnership with the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha, and West Bengal.

RDI’s Areas of Work

RDI’s current land rights work in India falls under the following four areas:

Homestead Plots

Research done by RDI has demonstrated that even one-tenth of an acre can provide significant benefits to landless families by providing them sufficient space to grow food, build a house, keep animals, etc. RDI advocates for government to allot homestead plots to the 17 million landless rural families in the country.

Legal Awareness

Lack of legal awareness and government policies is a major hindrance in ensuring sustainable legal rights for all. RDI helps train community organisers in land related legislation, who then help make poor families aware of their rights. Secure land rights provide not just a guarantee against forceful eviction, but also allow the poor access to credit and government services, improve their incentives to invest and leverage land as a real resource.

Farm Land Leasing

Research shows that tenancy restrictions negatively impact agricultural efficiency and equity. Adopting more reasonable regulations for farm land leasing could greatly improve farm land efficiency, while providing greater access to land for many poor families.

Women’s Right to Land

Over the years, RDI has found that land ownership in the hand of women tends to have an extraordinary ripple effect on the overall economic and social health of a community. Only about seven percent of agricultural holdings in the country are owned by women, even though they perform most of the work. Helping women gain access to land is a priority for RDI.