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Fondo Documental Dinámico
sobre la gobernanza de los recursos naturales en el mundo

MADAGASCAR. «Relative Land Security». A national experiment to put in place procedures for acknowledging rights at the local level

Fuentes documentales

MALDIDIER, Christophe. La «SFR», une nouvelle donne pour la sécurisation foncière en milieu rural ? Actes de l’Atelier sur le Foncier à Madagascar. 8 et 9 avril 1999, Ambohimanambola. Antananarivo. République Malgache.

In response to the spread of insecure land tenure, conflicts in rural areas, and miscellaneous problems (cost, rigidity, slowness, etc.) caused by traditional land registration procedures, the Madagascan government passed an interdepartmental ruling in August 1998 establishing Relative Land Security (Sécurisation Foncière Relative SFR). This intervention is one of many things done by the Environmental Programme, which aims to promote better natural resource management by assigning exclusive use rights to local communities, by eliminating free access to land and resources and by creating the conditions for more intensive agriculture. Thus, the SFR is very close to the Secure Local Management contracts (Gestion Locale Sécurisée GELOSE), and is linked with a heritage-type approach, which is, in principle, based on dialogues between different actors about long-term scenarios.

SFR is a tool that aims to strengthen the rights of local communities in their land. It has two additional facets:

  • On the one hand, it constitutes State recognition of farming communities’ use rights through “topographic” intervention. This amounts to official recognition of customary property, farmland, grazing land and natural resources used by or appropriated by village communities, although there are no title deeds issued. Registered plots of land are excluded from this exercise, since SFR is designed as a transitional step towards « Optimal Land Security », which incorporates land registration and a title deed, since the community and each occupant can request the registration of their plots at any time 1.

  • On the other hand, it provides for the creation of decision-making bodies and procedures for the local management of land, while promoting negotiation as the optimal conflict-resolution process. SFR therefore also contains a political dimension since it forestalls the transfer of government competences to the commune level as far as land management is concerned. The commune, a recently established (1995) administrative division in Madagascar, which up until now only played a minor role in land management, now is involved in negotiations, mediation, arbitration, settlement of disputes, and plays a preponderant role in the management and updating of SFR. The negotiation process is assisted by an environmental mediator; he has to reach a consensus on a village’s land occupancy, among its in-habitants, as well as with its neighbouring villages and the regional technical department. Although disputes are supposed to be settled before SFR is applied, eventual conflicts that occur after its application must be dealt with by a permanent negotiating body capable of reaching local arrangements.

Although SFR follows the rationale that estates are a step towards the spread of private property, it nevertheless breaks away from the central government’s traditional monopoly over land by means of decentralising land management. SFR strengthens local rights by issuing official documents and ensures “local” land management in the long term. Thus it aims to close in the gap between government rules and local practices.

SFR is termed “relative” insofar as it provides administrative rather than legal recognition. Unlike the former SFO system, SFR does not grant title deeds. In a way, it represents the first cartographic and topographic step toward classic land registration by delimiting village land and zones containing natural resources, and by surveying plots based on the administrative and public observation of the possessions owned by each person in a given territory.

This territorial approach is innovative because territory is defined as the space that a group (the basic rural community) recognises as its legitimate space, and which is recognised as such by other groups. This concept differs from classic land parcelling operations that entail carving out geographic boundaries. Rather, it takes into account ways that the land is appropriated by local populations. Furthermore, by considering cultivated and fallow lands in the same way as lands containing renewable natural resources (forests, marshes, grazing circuits), it diverges from government regulations that privileged the notion of utilisation when awarding properties. Thus SFR is a means of transferring private (or even sometimes public) land management from the State to local communities, including inalienable public spaces such as public and classified forests.

However, drawing the boundaries of village territories is very complicated and reflects situations that differ greatly from one region to another. There is sometimes overlap in the lands claimed by different villages as well as some persons’ rights that are not clearly distinguished from those of others. Moreover, peripheral spaces exist in which the rights of different users have not been clearly defined. As with the traditional registration system, the increased tenure security of certain persons sometimes means the infringement upon the tenure of others, which can lead to conflicts.

Some lessons have already been learned from the first SFR experiments done in Madagascar (in the Andapa region) in view to applying the rule generally. These lessons highlight the need for elastic implementation that is appropriate for the type of village territory.

A certain number of the SFR’s underlying principles demonstrate a rupture with the former registration system, although the official line is that these operations are merely transitional.

It is this aspect that makes the experiment being carried out in Madagascar so interesting, since it works to set up a genuine and permanent framework for negotiating land issues at the local level, while being able to take into account the issues at hand.

Editors of the Record: LE GAL, Morgane and MERLET Michel (IRAM)

Translation: Mary Rodeghier (AGTER) 2007.

1 SFR as a means of securing tenure of land mostly concerns “traditional” and “semi-organised” communities, in other words those in which collective and community modes of land management predominate. So-called “organised” communities benefit from the Optimal Land Security system (SFO), and traditional land registration procedures.