Land rights are largely taken for granted in the developed world. Yet for many people in developing nations, land rights have no reality. In the developed world, land rights are almost always recorded in secure registers, but this is not the case elsewhere. It is estimated that as many as 90 percent of the world’s poorest people enjoy neither security of tenure nor secure access to land. In Africa, this means that more than 500 million and perhaps as many as 750 million people are living without any legal security or proof of claim to the land they are occupying.
The establishment and registration of formal or customary rights of occupancy are essential building blocks in ensuring people have security so that they are then protected from forced evictions or a denial of their occupancy right. Consequently, they are able to pass on these land rights to others through inheritance or transfer. Various studies have shown that tenure security encourages people to invest more in their land, leading to greater productivity (whether it be agricultural land or urban retail property). Ultimately, this investment translates into increased household income and reduced poverty.
In recent years, we have seen a global shift in how large-scale registration of land rights is brought about. DAI is leading this global change by championing the low-cost “fit for purpose” approach to mass registration, which has been used to identify, demarcate, and register millions of land parcels at an average cost of less than US$10 per parcel—all in highly compressed time frames.
In Rwanda, DAI completed the registration of more than 10 million parcels in less than five years; in Ethiopia, we are embarking on a similar project that will cover more than 14 million parcels. In both cases, the approach is community based and highly participatory. In other countries such as Cape Verde, Mozambique, and Tanzania, DAI has harnessed new technology (watch video below for more) to make field data collection simpler and faster.
Some interesting lessons have emerged from this unique experience, and we hope to share these insights in the Making Land Rights Real series of articles, beginning with four articles covering a range of contexts:
- Owen Edwards captures much of the “best practice” developed through the new low-cost approach and emphasises the need for the process to reach all parts of the community and include all possible claimants.
- Sarah Maguire and the late Alice Lahai present an interesting case from a U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) project in Sierra Leone. Although the project was centred on security and justice issues, it found that a key way to strengthen women’s empowerment in the community is to improve their land rights.
- This link between land rights and women’s empowerment is further supported by a recent DFID-commissioned rapid evidence assessment carried out by DAI as part of the Evidence on Demand programme. Led by Geoffrey Payne, the DAI team carried out an extensive literature search to look at policies, strategies, and interventions that foster security of tenure and respect for legitimate land rights. We also looked at how investments have taken into account existing legitimate land rights in developing countries. Richard Baldwin, DAI’s Global Practice Lead for Land Tenure and Property Rights, describes the findings of that study, which show that titling and registration have been by far the most successful strategy in protecting land rights, and that clarification of land rights has a significant impact on women’s empowerment. These findings argue strongly that the link between women’s empowerment and secure land rights should be more strongly emphasised in development programmes.
- While we consider land rights as a developing world issue, there are also issues closer to home. Karol Boudreaux provides a case study describing a landmark case where historical claims by indigenous people in Canada have finally been recognised—making their land rights real at last.
We look forward to sharing additional articles in the coming months as part of this series.
Investing, Leasing Land, and Compensating Landowners: The Addax Bioenergy Experience in Sierra Leone
Much has been written about the impacts of long-term land-based investments on local land rights, development, and livelihood opportunities—and much of the commentary, driven by notable controversies, has been hostile to the land investor. But while investors now have a plethora of guidelines and principles to follow in implementing their projects, they still confront a dearth of hard information and statistics based on actual experience.
Enhancing Women and Girls’ Land Rights in Rural Sierra Leone
Around 70 percent of Sierra Leoneans live in rural areas, the large majority of them depending on agriculture for their livelihoods. Issues of land ownership, tenure, and inheritance rights are therefore crucial to virtually every rural household. But these issues are bound up in a system of customary law that in turn reflects endemic gender discrimination. One of the most vexing problems facing women and girls, for example, is the dispossession of their land in the event that a husband dies without the customary marriage being formally registered. It’s a problem that has drawn the attention of the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), and one where DFID’s Access to Security and Justice Programme (ASJP) made substantial headway.
Legitimate Land Tenure and Property Rights: Fostering Compliance and Development Outcomes
At the request of the U.K. Department for International Development, DAI recently undertook structured research into the following question: What policies and interventions or approaches have been successful in fostering compliance with legitimate land tenure rights and what impact have these strategies had on development outcomes? The research team was led by Geoffrey Payne and included James Mitchell, Luke Kozumbo, Clive English, and Richard Baldwin, using Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA), a methodology that uses a structured approach to identify relevant literature and then assess the robustness of the evidence presented.
The Law of the Land: Recent Cases Show Legal Support for Local People
International efforts to secure the land and resource rights of local and indigenous peoples are increasingly finding a friend in the law. National and international law, policies, and jurisprudence are coming together with “soft” legal guidelines and principles to yield stronger standards related to indigenous land and resource rights. Landmark cases are creating precedent for local or indigenous people who have been displaced to reoccupy or retain property, which may lead to strong tenure security and autonomy.
Ethiopia Land Registration Ready for Lift Off: Now What?
Large-scale land registration programmes such as the U.K. for International Development (DFID)-funded Rwanda Land Tenure Regularisation Programme have demonstrated that it is possible to roll out land registration programmes quickly and cheaply, on a national scale. Now, a similar but even more ambitious U.K. initiative in Ethiopia—the Land Investment for Transformation Programme (LIFT)—is beginning to gain traction. Building on the lessons learned in Rwanda, LIFT is working to keep the momentum going, ensure the programme is financially sustainable, and begin to realize the development benefits of expanded land titling.
Public-Private Partnerships for Land Administration: Can It Work in Cabo Verde?
Public-private partnerships (PPPs) have a long history as effective mechanisms for delivering infrastructure projects and more recently as vehicles for service provision. The use of PPPs for land administration services is less common, though there are a few notable successes in developed economies. In a development context—where donor-funded titling or tenure regularization projects often face serious challenges of sustainability—a PPP approach could provide a model for completing reforms nationwide and sustaining the progress achieved on a given project. DAI, which recently implemented a land tenure regularization project on one of several islands that comprise Cabo Verde, is exploring the possibility of completing that nation’s cadaster via an innovative PPP.
Dialogue and Development in Ghana’s Oil and Gas Region
In 2007, oil and gas was discovered off the coast of Ghana, leading to a boom in infrastructure projects and investment in the country’s Western Region, particularly in six coastal districts. Subsequently, large tracts of land have been taken over for the development of oil and gas infrastructure, businesses, pipelines, roads, and areas allocated for machinery repair. While this surge in activity has raised expectations for economic benefits among local communities, it has also spurred questions about resettlement and compensation, alternative livelihood and job opportunities, changes to land use, and food security.
From Land Tenure Regularisation to a Sustainable Land Register
The evidence is clear: property rights are essential foundations for poverty alleviation and economic development. In Africa, it is less clear as to what may be the most effective way of establishing and especially maintaining those rights, with formal and customary tenure systems both offering degrees of security but radically different development possibilities.
Using Mobile Technology for First Registration of Land: Lessons Learned in Tanzania
“In the 21st century,” as I write with my co-authors in the companion piece to this article, “land administration systems will nearly always be developed using digital systems. Assuming they are well designed, then they are more secure, more efficient, more transparent, and more accessible.”
But the test of any tool is with users in the field. This axiom of development is borne out by DAI’s experience implementing a land tenure registration activity in Tanzania, where a pilot of the open source Mobile Application for Secure Tenure (MAST) has yielded important lessons that we are now incorporating into the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future Land Tenure Assistance (LTA) activity.
Women’s Land Rights and the Problem of Polygamy: A Proposal in Ethiopia
Despite being illegal, polygamous marriage remains alive and well in Ethiopia, and that poses some obvious challenges when it comes to land rights. Statistics from 2011 reveal that 11 percent of married women in Ethiopia share a husband with one or two other wives. Polygamy affects women’s rights to property and income because it is unclear whose rights take precedence under the law when the husband becomes ill or passes away. Unfortunately, federal and regional land proclamations in Ethiopia don’t address the registration of polygamous families.
Mozambique: Even a Progressive Land Law Needs Revision After a Generation of Experience
Mozambique is widely regarded as having a modern and progressive land tenure framework, following the enactment of the 1997 Land Law. However, in its implementation, the law has not always lived up to its promise. Twenty years of experience reveals a number of areas in which the legal framework would benefit from revision and better serve its primary aims of promoting productive land use while protecting legitimate customary and smallholder land rights.
LTA Program Shows Benefit of Truly Participatory Approach
The Feed the Future Land Tenure Assistance (LTA) activity—which has completed mapping of more than 36,000 land parcels in 26 villages with more than 27,000 Certificates of Customary Rights of Occupancy printed and registered—is a powerful example of how digital technology applied in a participatory process can enable rural people to strengthen their land rights.