A new report from the World Bank suggests that Africa, which is home to half the world’s uncultivated land, can significantly reduce poverty, achieve rapid economic growth, and increase food security by improving land governance systems and strengthening land tenure and resource rights.
“Land governance issues need to be front and center in Africa to maintain and better its surging growth and achieve its development promise,” says Frank Byamugisha, author of the report and lead land specialist in the World Bank’s Africa region. “Our findings provide a useful, policy-oriented roadmap for African countries and communities to secure their own land for building shared prosperity.”
The report’s action plan calls for:
- Championing reforms and investments to document all communal lands and prime lands that are individually owned.
- Regularizing tenure rights of squatters on public land in urban slums that are home to 60 percent of urban dwellers in Africa.
- Tackling the weak governance and corruption endemic to the land governance system in many African countries which often favor the status quo and harm the interests of poor people.
- Generating the political will of African governments to mobilize behind these land reforms and attract the political and financial buy-in of the international development community.
The World Bank also reiterated its support for and endorsement of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, calling the guidelines “a major international instrument to inform specific policy reforms, including our own procedures and guidance to clients.”
This is the latest in a series of high-level statements of support for the Voluntary Guidelines since they were adopted by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in May 2012. The focus of the international community is now shifting to implementation, which will require coordinated action by donors, stakeholder governments, civil society and the private sector. Both the World Bank and USAID are members of the recently launched Global Donor Working Group on Land, an international effort to improve information sharing and coordination to enhance the effectiveness of development programs that focus on land governance – including coordinating support to implement the Voluntary Guidelines.
According to Frank Pichel, USAID Land Tenure and Property Rights Specialist, “the World Bank Report estimates that 90% of rural land in sub-Saharan Africa remains undocumented. In the absence of formally recognized property rights, state governments have been known to allocate land for large-scale land acquisitions – disenfranchising any citizens with an informal claim. While governments may have good intentions, such as increasing food production, the existing inhabitants are often left worse off.”
As a recent article in Devex notes, “land governance issues have been getting more attention from international development leaders lately. The U.S. Agency for International Development, the world’s largest bilateral donor, is more engaged now than it has been in years, for instance.” From strengthening the property rights of artisanal miners to supporting land policy and legal reform in Liberia to piloting an approach to improve women’s access to customary justice systems in Kenya, USAID is investing in programs across Africa that strengthen land and resource rights, improve agricultural productivity, and enhance economic growth.