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Natural Resource Governance around the World

Policies and Procedures for Securing and Improving Access to Land

Issue Paper # 1. International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD)

Written by: IIED

Writing date: February 2006

Organizations: International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Type of document: Research Paper

Summary

Summary

This paper reviews recent policy and practice to secure access to land for poor people. It covers Africa, Latin America and Asia, while also referring to experience from Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. The paper examines shifting approaches to land reform, different means to secure land rights and achieve more equitable distribution, the vulnerability of particular groups to losing their land rights, and the need to address land rights when resolving conflict and building peace. It concludes with broad recommendations for practical measures to protect land rights for poorer, more vulnerable groups.

Land is an asset of enormous importance for billions of rural dwellers in the developing world. The nature of rights and how strongly they are held vary greatly, depending on competition for land, the degree of market penetration and the broader institutional and political context. The picture is hugely diverse within and between countries and regions. Nevertheless, some general trends and common challenges can be identified.

Although there are significant differences between and within countries, pressure on land is set to increase over future decades, given the impact of continued population growth, urbanization, globalization of markets and climate change. As a resource becomes scarcer and more valuable, those with weak rights to this resource tend to lose out. In the case of land, particular groups are more vulnerable to such dispossession, including the poor, those in peri-urban areas, indigenous people, women, those relying on common property resources, and those in areas of conflict. Addressing land access and tenure security for these groups is crucial for social justice, sustainable livelihoods, political stability and peaceful co-existence. Attention to securing land rights is also important for promoting rural development, as it helps create conditions that encourage local and foreign investment.

Policy dialogue at all levels should recognize the importance of secure land rights for sustained development, growth and peace. There is a need to mainstream more systematically land access and property rights in PRSPs and macro-economic policy at national level, and in the MDGs at global level. Otherwise, land issues are squeezed out of mainstream strategy development.

The land reform agenda must be driven and owned at the individual country level and, whilst lessons of good practice can be shared across countries, simple one-size-fit-all solutions are unlikely to help. Effective reform of land and property rights to support the livelihoods of the poor requires sustained, long-term commitment from governments and development agencies. Successful land reforms ultimately depend upon the exercise of strong political power allied to land reform movements, jointly prepared to challenge resistance by vested land interests.

Promoting equitable access to land requires an effective drive to implement ongoing land redistribution programmes, and assess the systems and institutional arrangements used to deliver these programmes. Securing land rights requires: a range of tools to be tailored to different groups and circumstances, paying special attention to the land tenure security needs of poorer and more vulnerable groups; support for democratic land institutions and land information systems that are decentralised, problem centred and open to public scrutiny; effective links between new institutions and existing local mechanisms for managing land; and improved systems for resolving land disputes, including formal, alternative dispute resolution and customary procedures.

Capacity building is critical for improving access to land and its effective administration. A shortage of skilled personnel in government agencies and lack of legal awareness amongst the general public combine to render land administration services largely inaccessible for ordinary people. The need to pay fees, the distance to access land registries, and reliance on being literate in the official language all limit further the outreach of state policy in rural areas. This calls for support to professional development, lesson sharing and capacity building, including at university level, in centres of excellence and through learning networks of policymakers, practitioners and civil society. Capable and well-informed civil society organizations play a very valuable role in informing, and providing checks and balances on government decision-making and the development and implementation of land policy. Exchange of experience through networks of civil society organizations, analysis and research linked to practical measures can also help develop more appropriate land policy and institutions capable of meeting the land security needs of poor and rich alike.

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