In Benin, food insecurity is evidenced in the height and weight deficiencies in 40% of children under age 5, the limited availability of farmland, and the lack of diverse produce options in markets. At the same time, where farming is possible, some families who move elsewhere leave fields in their home village unused in order to show their ownership. The Government of Benin introduced the rural landholding plan (Plan Foncier Rural or PFR) as a pilot project in 1993 to address these problems as well as their root cause: the lack of secure land tenure caused by Benin’s dual system of customary and statutory land rights.
In Benin, customary land rights have largely been inherited through male lineage and recognized by ceremonial acts rather than written documentation. Without formal proof such as titles or parcel maps, families have had to establish their ownership through keeping fields fallow, installing physical barriers (such as rocks, fences or trees), and prohibiting their tenants—who possess subordinate rights—from making improvements, planting trees, or using fertilizer. However, these strategies have not protected owners against speculators or state confiscation.
To strengthen the rights of rural landholders, the United States Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and several European donors have funded the expansion of the PFR into nearly 400 villages, which will create their own plans for implementation. With support of MCC’s Benin Access to Land Project, the PFR will survey and map fields, recognize and document customary rights, record a list of landholders’ names, and archive land sale contracts and agreements of tenancy or subordinate use.
MCC’s Knowledge and Innovation Network (KIN) Journal reports that there is evidence that land proprietors are willing to lease their now-fallow lands. A series of impact evaluations have found an increase in: the use of written contracts, tree planting, engagement in village land management, and women’s farming. They also found that there may be some resistance to register documents either because of high fees or a desire to hide the transaction from official oversight.
Where landholdings are documented, Benin law grants owners the right to use land as collateral for a loan. USAID research has found that when land governance systems effectively protect rights in this way, people make a variety of forward-looking investments because they are more confident that they will capture returns on their efforts.