This paper provides arguments for discussions of the role of property rights for food security and child nutrition in rural Africa. The results are drawn from a case study in the Kafue Flats of Zambia. They show that unclear jurisdictional boundaries and weak authorities facilitated re-negotiations of property rights related to natural resources in the context of the Southern African food crisis 2002–2003. Access to natural resources was skewed towards the more powerful. On average, food intake was temporarily 50% lower than the annual mean, compared to a less than 10% decrease in the lean season 2003–2004. Large inequalities existed between different clusters of villages, according to the history of immigration and ethnicity. Yet the variability was greatest within villages. Households, which reported increasing difficulties with access to natural resources, had less diversified income-generating activities, lower food intake and more children showing impaired growth. Discussions addressing the growing disparities in rural areas should focus on a realistic implementation and enforcement of property rights in context of situated local power-relations, next to the harmonization of different tenure systems related to natural resources.