The Centrality of Land Is Not Given Sufficient Recognition in National Development Strategies and Programmes

1. The centrality of land to people’s livelihoods and to sustainable development

There is need to recognize the centrality of land to development. The eradication of hunger and poverty, and the sustainable use of the environment, depend in large measure on how people, communities and others gain access to land, fisheries and forests. The livelihood of many, particularly the rural poor, are based on secure and equitable access to and control over these resources. They are the source of food and shelter; the basis for social, cultural and religious practices; and a central factor in economic growth[1]. Throughout the rural world, land provides a primary source of income, food security, cultural identity and shelter. It also serves as a fundamental asset for the economic empowerment of the poor and provides a safety net in times of hardship[2]. Throughout sub-Africa, land is fundamental issue for economic development, food security and poverty reduction. Land is of crucial importance to the economies and societies of the region, contributing a major share of GDP and employment in most countries, and constituting the main livelihood basis for a large proportion of the population.

Sound land governance is fundamental in achieving sustainable development and poverty reduction, and therefore a key component in supporting the new global agenda, set by the adoption of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Social Development Goals (SDGs)[3] and the New Urban Agenda.

Agriculture is the backbone of the majority of African economies accounting for 25%-35% of GDP and providing the main source of livelihood for over 70% of the population in many countries[4]. Land is a major and a critical productive resource in agriculture and hence the centrality of land.

2. The Theory of Change

Research from a range of sources including the World Bank, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), OECD, Civil society organisations, and the academic institutions show that strengthening land and property rights goes hand in hand with the realization of development objectives related to poverty alleviation, food security, environmental sustainability and advancing women’s empowerment worldwide.

Insecure rights to land and natural resources have far-reaching ramifications. A lack of land rights creates insecurity for poor rural and urban landholders that dampens investment, destroys livelihoods, ferments conflict, creates unequal economic systems, locks assets in an unusable and untradeable form; discourages conservation, hampers sustainable domestic resource mobilization for increasing the availability of public services, and undermines principles of effective and democratic governance.

Clear and secure land tenure can improve livelihoods and sustainable management of natural resources, and promote sustainable development and responsible investment that eradicates poverty and food insecurity. Land tenure security guarantees the existence of and rights, ensures protection of rights through legal remedies when those rights are challenged or abused, provides with landowners with confidence that they will not be arbitrarily deprived of their rights over particular lands and resources, and creates land markets that unlocks its potential as an asset and encourages efficient allocation and transactions.

Despite these transformative benefits, many donors shy away from emphasizing land rights in their development strategies and many counties in Africa do not place land and property rights in the fore front of development strategies.

Efforts to achieve sustainable development for all must consider secure and equitable rights to land and natural resources as a priority. The Post-2015 Agenda must address the structural factors that undermine sustainable development. It is widely recognized that secure and equitable rights to land and natural resources are central to this effort.

3. Synopsis of proposed pathways and reconceptualization

The starting point is to refocus land within the broader policy framework. The land issue cannot be seen in isolation from broader agricultural, economic, political and institutional policy issues. Land management issues are strictly linked to broader issues of good governance, as land can be used for political patronage and rent seeking, as reforms in land management and administration may be linked to broader decentralization processes. Taxation is also a policy area of great relevance to land.

On one hand, land taxation may provide central and local governments with important revenue. On the other hand, land taxation may constitute an important tool for land policy, as it may create incentives for putting land to productive use and, where land ownership is strongly concentrated, for land sales from landowners to the land poor.

Furthermore, questions of land ownership, management and tenure rights have significant implications for the type of agricultural development as well as the distribution of income and wealth, for the rate of economic growth, and for the incidence of poverty[5]. Conversely, the shape and direction taken by the agricultural sector, the challenges which it faces, the forms of support it gains, and the extent to which it is integrated in the global economy affect incomes and returns from different forms of land use, the value of land, the contests to control this resource, and, ultimately, the very structure of land ownership. Therefore, there is need to put land in a broader picture. Changing and regulating land relations takes more than reforming land laws and policies. It requires concerted policy formulation in all areas relating to agriculture rural development and food security (access to credit, training and extension; marketing and trade, etc.). Addressing the land question should also be properly integrated into Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP) as fundamental tool for poverty reduction[6].

Second, Re-positioning land tenure issues and land governance using the new global development agenda as a catalyst and stimulus.

Land is at the heart of delivering the global vision of our future laid out in the SDGs. Responsible land governance[7] is fundamental in achieving sustainable development and therefore a key component in supporting the new global development agenda. Land is also critical in both mitigation and adaptation strategies in light of climate change. Responsible governance of tenure promotes sustainable social and economic development that can help eradicate poverty and food insecurity and encourages responsible investment[8]. According to the VGGT “States should ensure responsible governance of tenure because land, fisheries and forests are central for the realization of human rights, food security, poverty eradication, sustainable livelihoods, social stability, housing security, rural development, and social and economic growth” (VGGT, p6).

Third, Re-engineering the land administration systems to build sustainable and well governed land administration systems. Land Administration System (LAS) provide the infrastructure for implementing land policies and land management strategies in support of sustainable development. This infrastructure includes the institutional arrangements, a legal framework, processes, standards, land information, management and dissemination systems, and technologies required to support allocation, land markets, valuation, control of uses, and development of interests in land[9].

The current solutions to delivering land administration services have very limited global outreach; 75 percent of the world’s population do not have access to formal systems to register and safeguard their land rights[10]. The majority of these are the poor and the most vulnerable in society and without any level of security of tenure they constantly live in threat of eviction. There is an urgent need to build simple, basic and sustainable systems using a flexible and affordable approach to identifying the way land is occupied and used when considering the resources and capacities required for building such systems and the corresponding basic spatial frameworks available in less developed countries, the concepts of mature, sophisticated systems as predominantly used in developed countries, may well be seen as the end target rather than the point of entry. When assessing technology and investment choices, the focus should be on a “fit-for-purpose approach” that will meet the needs of society today and can be incrementally improved over time (Enemark, 2013)[11]

Flexibility is the key characteristic. It is about flexibility in terms of demands for accuracy, demands for spatial information and recording of legal and social tenure, and in shaping the legal framework to accommodate societal needs. Another characteristic is incremental improvement. The system should be designed for initially meeting the basic needs of society today and have the capacity to be incrementally improved over time in response to social and legal needs, economic development, investment and also financial opportunities that emerge over the longer term.

Fifth, Rethinking and re-designing implementation strategies for national land policies and laws. The rate of implementation of national land policies and laws in many African Countries has been slow and in some cases disappointing. According to the Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa (F&G) some common impediments to land policy implementation strategies (in most cases, implementation modalities do not form part of drafts submitted for public debate or stakeholder consultations nor do they form part of drafts submitted to cabinet and parliamentary endorsement; (b) Lack of capacity to manage change; (c) defects in policy development ; (d) lack of baseline data; (e) inadequacy of implementation infrastructure.

Lorenzo Cotula, et al[12] carried out a study and analysed land policy implementation issues and challenges. In some countries, for instance, implementation of land tenure reform has been slow due to lack of human and financial resources constraining the establishment of the new land management bodies provided for by legislation (Niger, Uganda). Across Africa, while women’s rights and gender equality are clearly established in national constitutions and legislation, the reality on the ground is very different, as discriminatory socio-cultural norms and practices are often entrenched within the social fabric.

Constraints on the implementation of land policies and laws also depend upon putting in place effective and efficient land institutions. Where legislation requires the establishment of a large number of new institutions, for instance, implementation may be constrained by lack of human and financial resources to get up these bodies and problems concerning the perceived legitimacy of such bodies compared to existing customary/local institutions.

Sixth: Investing in the Land Sector. Most land sectors are starved of public investment. In most countries the share of the Land Sector out of the national budget is less than 1.5 percent which is too low to deliver efficient and effective land services. Governments need to commit themselves to an agreed specific target out of the total national budget as is the case with The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP)[13].

The commitment is already expressed in the AU Declaration on Land Issues and Challenges in Africa (2009) where it is stated:-

“We Heads of States and Government of the African Union… undertake to… allocate adequate budgetary resources for land policy development and implementation processes, including the monitoring of progress”.

4. Anticipated contribution/outcome of the new pathways

If Governments in Africa do not address land issues and challenges; if they fail to invest adequately in the land sectors and improve land governance[14], then the high-sounding and catchy phrases found in many policy documents: ‘modernization of agriculture’, ‘agricultural transformation’, ‘agriculture-led growth’ (NEPAD), ‘fostering inclusive rural transformation’ (IFAD) and ‘structural transformation’ will remain only a pipe-dream and rhetorical statements.

If we fail to secure and strengthen land rights for everyone and all members of society, then we shall miss out on reaping the transformative benefits from secure land tenure as elaborated in this short paper. In brief, strengthening land rights is central to ending extreme poverty and promoting resilience societies. Clear, secure land rights create incentives that enhance food security, economic growth and sustainable development (USAID).

If Governments fail to modernize and reform LASs and practice good and responsible land governance, then our chances of realizing the SDGs are very slim indeed. Land as a resource and land governance are critical in achieving inclusive economic growth and socio-economic transformation.[15]

The ramifications from inaction, from failure to leverage land and scaling up reforms and investments from lack of adequate investment in the land sectors, modernizing and reforming LASs and improving land governance are enormous:-

  • Weak governance adversely affects social stability, sustainable use of the environment investment and economic growth (VGGT)
  • Poor land governance has far-reaching economic and social consequences: lack of inward investment increased deep-rooted conflicts; significant corruption and land grabbing. This all leads to social instability International Federation of Surveyors (FIG).
  • The impact of weak land governance: poverty and social exclusion; constraints on economic development; environmental degradation; reduced public revenues; tenure insecurity; land disputes; weak land and credit markets; negative social behavior; abuse of compulsory purchase (FAO)

[1] Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security

[2] FAO: Land Tenure Supports Sustainable Development

[3] The explicit land-related goals are: Goal 1, “ end poverty in all its forms everywhere”’ Goal 2, “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture” Goal 5, “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”; Goal 11 “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable “ and Goal 15” protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”

[4] The majority of Africa ‘s population still lives in the rural areas, where the main source of livelihood is agriculture

[5] In this regard, initiative by NEPAD i.e. The NEPAD Framework for Mainstreaming Land Policy and Governance into National Agriculture and other Sectoral Policies is a welcome idea

[6] Unfortunated the PRSPs developed by many African countries rarely identified land reform as a key instrument for poverty reduction. There is a clear lack of analyzing links between land tenure and questions of productivity, sustainability and equity

[7] Land governance is about the policies, processes and institutions by which land, property and natural resources are managed. This includes the decisions on access to land, land rights, land use, and land development, land governance basically about determining and implementing sustainable land policies (FIG, 2009)

[8] VGGT, p.v.

[9] Adopted from FIG Publication No. 45: Land Governance in support of the Millennium Development Goals, A New Agenda for Land Professionals (2009)

[10] For reference: FIG Publication No.60: Fit-For-Purpose Land Administration, Joint FIG/WORLD BANK Publication (2015)

[11] Enemark, S (2013): Fit-for purpose: Building Spatial Frameworks for Sustainable and Transparent Land Governance. Paper presented at World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, Washington D.C, 8-11 April 2013

[12] Lorenzo Cotula et al (2004): Land Tenure and Administration in Africa: Lessons of Experience and Emerging Issues

[13] For CAADP the target was by 2015 for Governments to be investing 10% of their national budgets in the agricultural sector

[14] According to Stig Enemark (2013), compared to other less developed regions, Sub-Sahara Africa has generally been left behind as is struggling with issues such as insecurity of tenure, informal settlements and urban slums, landownership inequalities and landlessness, and degrading of natural resources. These facts indicate that poor land governance, including the manner in which land rights are defined and administered, may well be the root of the problem.

[15] Despite its abundant agricultural land and natural resources, Sub-Saharan Africa is still mostly poor and has been unable to translate its recent robust growth into rapid poverty reduction. There is a general disconnect between and development and this suggests that poor land governance may be the root of the problem (Byamugisha F.(2013): Sharing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity. A programme to Scale up Reforms and Investments)

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