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Relevance of Legal Pluralism Approach in Nicaragua. Two case studies

Access to land in UCOSD and NITLAPAN projects

The weight of rural poverty and the very unequal distribution of land in Nicaragua mean that the issue of access to land is still a priority in development policies. In spite of several state policies during the last 30 years the problem has not been solved and, therefore, non governmental actors try to tackle the issue by implementing development intervention which aim is to bring access to land to the poor.

The objective of this paper is to study two of these interventions in order to identify relevant policy recommendations for non governmental actors.

The first intervention studied is a project based on long term leases with purchase option developed by the Union de Campesinos Organizados de San Dionisio (UCOSD).

The second example, implemented by Nitlapan, concerns medium term loans and technical assistance to support to buy land and make it produce.

The theoretical framework of this study is based on the following aspects. First, we argue that land rights are social constructions and we recognize the existence of a plurality of rights and rights holders involved. This leads us to consider the approach of legal pluralism as a relevant way to handle with the issue of analysing land rights. Finally, we mix this approach of legal pluralism with several intervention methodologies aimed to reach social change: the centralist one where state law is the main driver of change, the Institutional crafting school, where the emphasis is on rules and norms, and the approach based on the concept of Institutional bricolage, where social factors play a key role.

In the case studies we identify four normative systems influencing land rights – the state, the indigenous community, the peasant society and the development project in itself – and we confront their norms and rules.

This leads us to the following conclusions:

  • The approach of legal pluralism is relevant in Nicaraguan context,

  • There is a high tendency to formalization of land rights in development interventions,

  • The concept of Institutional bricolage is interesting in designing development interventions.

  • The previous conclusion result in concrete policy recommendations for practitioners. First they need to adopt a legal pluralist approach and recognize the existence of a plurality of overlapping normative orders that govern land rights relationships. Then, they need to understand that laws and rules are not the only important factor intervening in land access and management. On the contrary, social and power relations are key aspect and they have to gain a deep understanding of these processes if they want their interventions to be successful.

May 2010. Pierre Merlet. University of Antwerp. IOB.

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