Inflammation and stories on land

Women Landowners Relieve Poverty
As the number of women landowners grows, the overall condition of their communities improves drastically. This topic was recently covered at the World Bank Land and Poverty Conference 2016, the 17th annual conference, earlier this month.

The conference, “Scaling up Responsible Land Governance,” brought together many experts from many fields from around the globe to talk about land strategy.

A large portion of this year’s conference highlighted the work of researchers focusing on the empowerment of women in developing countries through land ownership. Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of increasing women landowners is the link to fewer cases of domestic violence.

With greater access to land ownership for women, the need for young daughters to marry diminishes and households have more access to resources. According to Klaus Deininger, an economist for the World Bank and conference organizer, women with greater land rights typically have more personal wealth, leading to lower levels of domestic violence.

“If women have stronger bargaining power, they actually can resist,” Deininger says in an article by Reuters. “Their husbands will think twice before beating them.”

The conference tackled questions on how to enhance women’s awareness of their legal rights and how to ensure women’s rights in land interventions. The Landesa Rural Development Institute is an organization that seeks to provide solutions to these questions by securing greater access for potential women landowners in developing countries.

Laws and policies often dilute or deny women’s rights to land. Even when laws enshrine such rights, loopholes, low implementation and enforcement and sex-discriminatory practices often undercut these formal guarantees.

Landesa’s Center for Women’s Land Rights has programing in both India and Rwanda to combat those challenges. In partnership with West Bengal’s Department of Women and Child Development, the Security for Girls Through Land Project provides vocational training and skills to adolescent girls in order to improve their health and nutrition. The curriculum is based on land rights, asset creation and land-based livelihoods.

The project creates “girls groups” which are peer-facilitated meetings in which girls are given lessons to educate them about land rights and the positive benefits associated with control over land. Girls are taught to start “kitchen gardens” to grow produce for the family or to sell. As the girls begin to earn money, often for the first time, families begin to think of girls as an asset rather than a burden.

The project, beginning in 2010, has already reached 40,000 girls in over 1,000 villages in West Bengal. In addition to engaging with girls in local communities, the project reaches out to boys in local schools in an effort to change the mindset that young women are an economic burden.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports that women make up half of the world’s agriculture workforce. As these women have greater access to land, the ripple effect, according to Landesa, includes better nutrition for families, improved family health, educational gains and reduced domestic violence.

Michael A. Clark

Sources: Landesa, Reuters, World Bank
Photo: Flickr

Land Management
According to a recent World Bank report, economic growth in Uganda may continue to develop if the country institutes better land management strategies. “A more effective system of land governance, including for registering land, strengthening institutions for resolving disputes and urban planning, will boost productivity and transform livelihoods in Uganda,” the report states.

The World Bank released the sixth edition of the Uganda Economic Update, entitled “Searching for the Grail – Can Uganda’s Land Support its Prosperity Drive?” It points out that improving land management will help Uganda to achieve commercialization of agriculture and urbanization.

In Uganda, around 20 percent of the total land is registered, which is higher than the average level of 10 percent for sub-Saharan African countries. However, the current system of land tenure makes it difficult to transform land uses to spur higher levels of productivity.

For starters, unclear property rights lead to difficulty in transferring ownership as well as a large number of disputes and conflicts. Due to the unclear land rights, 37 percent of individually owned land cannot be sold; 34 percent cannot be rented and 44 percent cannot be used as security for a loan.

Another problem is that current land policies and systems are too weak to efficiently implement urban planning and reduce the cost of infrastructure development in the country. The report states that compared with most major cities worldwide, which derive revenue from land to finance their infrastructure development, Uganda hasn’t fully applied land value capture tools, such as development fees, land auctions and property taxation, into its system of land management.

According to the World Bank report, Uganda’s population is expected to increase from 35 million to over 70 million by 2040, and there will be about 388 more people increased on every square kilometer of arable land. Uganda’s rapidly expanding population is putting pressure on land usage, especially in urban areas.

“With the fast-growing urban population, Uganda needs to enforce the existing policies to promote better urban land management that will allow them to build livable cities.” Said Christina Malmberg Calvo, World Bank Country Manager. “For Uganda, key among these would include land value capture to finance urban infrastructure.”

The report states that the Ugandan government can promote more efficient land use to support the healthy transformation of the agricultural sector and a shift towards higher-value economic activities located in urban areas by taking the following four actions:

  • Strengthening institutions for land administration management
  • Accelerating the process of registration of land, including that owned communally, by religious and cultural institutions, and by government
  • Redesigning the Land Fund to enhance its efficiency and equity in supporting a resolution of overlapping rights
  • Reviewing and prioritizing policy commitments to identify and close critical gaps such as in restrictions on rental markets, disincentives such as taxation for speculative holding of land, urban land use, and expropriation and compensation to promote equity and fairness in land transactions

According to Calvo, the Ugandan government has begun the process of systematically registering land and improving land information management. By accelerating these activities and the overall reform programs, she says the country would raise the share of land that has secure rights and ease the process of transferring land. These measures to improve land management will contribute to spurring long-term economic growth and transformation in Uganda.

Shengyu Wang

Sources: Daily Monitor, World Bank
Photo: Flickr

For the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations, land ownership is an economic resource and critical determinant of social and cultural identity. But for the 4 billion people who live without registered land, landlessness can mean economic insecurity, no personal address with which to vote or receive aid, and a constant state of disputation and residential impermanence.

One implication of massive concentrations of unregistered land is the loss of wealth that they have the potential to generate. But perhaps more importantly, the absence of established land title systems means that property ownership is not guaranteed. As Devex development reporter Naki Mendoza notes, this has serious consequences for developing countries.

“Farmers cannot legally pass down ancestral lands to their children. Families cannot secure a mortgage or use property as collateral for a loan,” he writes. “And local communities are shut out from negotiations with extractive companies. For governments, it represents a sizable loss of tax revenues or, crucially, a foreign direct investment that will never be made because of uncertainty over property rights.”

Data accumulation mechanisms are poised to remedy these problems by streamlining land registration and giving local communities the ability to monitor and enforce their rights to their land. Data and analytics company Thomson Reuters has created a proprietary land information system that digitizes and archives land deeds in government databases, a practice that safeguards against the loss or damage of paper deeds.

Like mobile banking or online healthcare, digitization can reduce the opportunity cost of land registration from a multiday journey to a local registrar to a minutes-long mobile upload. The digital platform is also linked to satellite mapping systems, which provide updated property lines and can be used to mediate disputes between families, communities or even multinational extraction companies.

As Mendoza points out, these digital platforms have yielded concrete results. In Cape Town, South Africa, 915,148 properties were reported on its tax roll last year, up 66% since 2000. In Jamaica, it now takes only two days to register new property, down from 45 days in 2005. In the Philippines, nearly 60,000 urban land titles are issued each year, compared to just a few thousand as of five years ago.

With increasingly large and accessible quantities of land management data, a number of global institutions have commenced programs to secure land rights for the world’s 4 billion landless people. Earlier this month, at the Third International Conference on Financing and Development in Addis Ababa, the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the World Bank signed a Declaration of Intent to establish a Network of Excellence on Land Governance in Africa (NELGA) to establish a widespread system of land registration and land rights. NELGA will complement the existing Land Policy Initiative, whose stated purpose is “to enable the use of land to lend impetus to the process of African development.”

“Secure access to land and other natural resources is of vital importance for the people in rural areas of Africa,” said German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dr. Gerd Müller. “It will be an important contribution for food security and growth in the agricultural sectors, especially for smallholders.”

The demand for online land management services marks an opportunity for American companies looking to apply data and analytic systems to relieve people living in states of extreme poverty. It would also help millions of people establish a state of permanency for themselves and their families, which precedes activities like consumption and local investment. As land registration becomes more accessible for those living in extreme poverty, demand for modern information systems will become more widespread, and the door will continue to open for American technology companies and mobile developers in developing regions.

Zach VeShancey

Sources: Devex, Leadership, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: Devex

Last month, the President of India promulgated the controversial Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Ordinance despite massive public opposition. This means that even though the bill outlining the amendments has not yet passed in India’s Upper House to legally become law, its content would still be enforced. Multiple farmer organizations have collectively filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the ordinance, labeling it as “unconstitutional” and an unchecked exercise of executive power.

The bill amends various aspects of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013, which replaced the colonial-era Land Acquisition Act of 1894. The aim of the amendments is to facilitate development projects with greater ease by expediting land acquisition.

But many argue that the amendments violate property rights of vulnerable communities and risk exacerbating economic and social woes. While the 2013 Act made the consent of at least 70-80% of landowners mandatory for a project to be carried out, the new amendments no longer require any level of consent for projects that are for national security and defense, rural infrastructure, social infrastructure, industrial corridors and housing for the poor.

The amendments also no longer mandate a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) to be carried out for these five types of projects or any Public-Private Partnership (PPP) project if the government owns the land. Opponents of the amendment fear that the categories exempt from the consent and SIA requirements are so broad that nearly all land development projects can be carried out without them.

The new amendments also weaken the previous Act’s provision that decreed land be returned to its original owners if it remained unused for more than five years after its purchase. As a report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India on Special Economic Zones found last November, land in India is often left undeveloped for long periods of time.

Opponents also criticize the amendments for increasing government officials’ immunity against prosecution. In the old Act, the head of the department that carried out the project would be responsible for any mismanagement or wrongdoing. Now, the head of the department and other civil servants are protected from prosecution until the government gives courts its permission to proceed.

The Modi government, which is behind the amendments, has defended them by asserting that they will attract foreign investors. Land acquisition laws for foreign companies have been riddled with red tape and slow bureaucracy. The World Bank rates India 142 out of 189 economies for ease of doing business. Many companies have dropped their investment plans after just a few years because of these impediments.

But lingering concerns remain about the government’s ability to carry out any provision of either the 2013 Act or its amendments. Indian bureaucracy is riddled with corruption, impunity and mismanagement. An estimated 75% of displaced people since 1951 are still awaiting rehabilitation. Many have not been given their due compensation.

– Radhika Singh

Sources: The New Indian Express, The World Bank, One Law Street, One Law Street (2), The Weekend Leader, The Hindu
Photo: The Wall Street Journal

violence in azerbaijan
As the world’s eyes turn to the ongoing struggle and possible ceasefire in Ukraine, another simmering conflict in Russia’s backyard seems to be flaring up. The long contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, which lies in Azerbaijan but which is a self-declared independent nation and comprised of ethnic Armenians, has seen an increase in violence in 2014 and 2015.

The region devolved into a bloody war immediately preceding the fall of the Soviet Union that killed almost 30,000 people and displaced millions more. A ceasefire brokered by the Russians in 1994 left Karabakh and surrounding territories in the hands of Armenians but legally enveloped by Azerbaijan, which lost 14 percent of its territory in the deal.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan has made great strides in socio-economic indicators including hunger, malnourishment, poverty, GDP per capita and the under-five mortality rate. While improvements can still be made, the country is squarely in the Upper-Middle Income country group and has met or is on its way to meeting all of its Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs. Without diversification, however, the economy, which has seen a lot of growth since the early 2000s, may become unstable and create additional social problems.

In its relative state of peace since the turn of the century, Azerbaijan’s poverty rate has dropped from 46.7 percent in 2002 to 8.4 percent in 2011. The economy grew as people felt safe to invest in the country. Hunger very nearly has disappeared from most regions and other indicators are well on their way to the same status. But a rise in violence around the Nagorno-Karabakh region could reverse this progress.

Azerbaijan, claiming a double standard in the West’s handling of Crimea in Ukraine compared to the Nagorno-Karabakh region, has increased its annual defense budget from $177 million in 2003 to $3.4 billion in 2013. It has purchased weapons from Israel, Turkey and Russia. Extra dollars mean not only a militarization in conflict areas, but also an economic focus shift from development to power.

The increased militarization of the Nagorno-Karabakh region and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, coupled with a penchant for violence on both sides, creates “the risk of a war by accident” according to the director of the Regional Studies Center, Richard Giragosian. War in the region could prove to be just as disastrous as last time, forcing millions to flee their homes without promise of return and killing thousands more.

The humanitarian crisis created by war between the two countries could be devastating. Rampant hunger, poverty, displacement and violence among neighboring ethnic groups could reverse the progress made by Azerbaijan in the last two decades. While the threat of open war is relatively low, any increase in violence stokes tensions anew, pushing the region further from peace.

Caitlin Huber

Sources: Economist,  BBC,  UNDP,  Knoema
Photo: The Guardian

land rights
One of the world’s largest food companies recently made landmark commitments to ensure that small-scale farmers and their property are protected from land grabs. More specifically, Nestle committed to a specific set of policy provisions to hold its company and its suppliers accountable.

This new effort is designed to ensure that absolutely no land grabs take place in the harvesting of ingredients for Nestle’s products and that the company harvests products only from places where the land has not been illegally or unfairly taken from their owners.

Furthermore, Nestle has said that it will work to identify opportunities for men and women who currently do not own land to gain property and help support their families. The company will also work to ensure that women who own land will remain secure in their rights and that their rights will be equal to those of men.

These commitments allow Nestle to improve the rights of land owners already incorporated into their supply chain, as well as those who have the opportunity to gain access to land. The company will also proactively identify potential risks to each farmer’s land rights and take steps to reduce or avoid these risks completely.

While these new commitments constitute a very worthy action, Nestle has taken it a step further by advocating for each farmer’s land rights. The company has stated its desire to strengthen its efforts in assisting disadvantaged individuals and indigenous people whose rights are not currently respected or recognized.

Nestle has also announced its support for the U.N. Committee on World Food Security Voluntary Guidelines on Governance of Tenure and will promote development of public information and warning systems to help ensure that rights are respected and that no land grabs take place.

These actions that Nestle has taken are notable and admirable steps toward respecting and protecting the rights of farmers who own land.

Andre Gobbo

Sources: Oxfam, Nestle, FAO
Photo: Oxfam

land grabbing
New research estimates that land grabbed in impoverished areas by wealthy countries and large corporations has the potential to feed up to 550 million people. Close to 80 million of acres of quality land in developing countries have been sold or rented to foreign investors since the year 2000, and this number is set to climb even higher in coming years.

With rising food prices comes an increased demand for cheap land, and this is exactly what has been happening since 2008 when global food prices tripled. Latin America, Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing the most land grabbing. Wealthier countries lacking access to stable food sources buy up cheap plots in these areas, where they cultivate food to be shipped back to their domestic populations.

Many foreign investors are also buying up inexpensive land abroad in order to cultivate plants to be used in the production of biofuel. Huge swaths of land in Gabon, Zimbabwe and Malaysia have been bought up in large scale land grabs, displacing many small farmers and eliminating the food supply of surrounding areas. No policies exist to limit crop export, leaving local food sovereignty dismantled.

Professor Maria Cristina Rulli from Politecnico di Milano in Italy declares that “policymakers need to be aware that if this food were used to feed the local populations it would be sufficient to abate malnourishment in each of these countries, even without investments aiming [increase] yields.”

In many developing countries, especially throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, governments own much of the land. They see these territories as unused and empty, even though local communities may have been cultivating a livelihood there for many generations. Leasing and selling this land is easy money for governments.

Looking past the negatives of land grabbing, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank have pointed out the developmental opportunities provided by this huge level of investment. They propose that the influx of technology and experience could help move local farmers in a better direction, and that improved infrastructure typically accompanies foreign investment. Instead of condemning land grabbing, these international organizations are asking that governments and investors be more inclusive of the voices of local farmers in their land deals.

These voluntary guidelines, however, offer no real protection to locals or accountability structures to the big actors of the buying and selling. Hannah Stoddart, head of policy for food and climate change at Oxfam, observes that “the world already produces enough food for everyone, yet one in eight people go to bed hungry every night … Stronger land rights are crucial to ensure that affected communities do not lose out.”

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: The Guardian, Deutsche Welle, New Scientist
Photo: Farm Land Grab

food security
The green revolution was a period of agricultural revolution that increased food production in the mid-twentieth century. It showed that a global effort can enlarge and develop food systems with new techniques and technology transfers. Lately, with rapid population growth, increasing food prices and climate change, there have been calls for a second green revolution. Here are a few ways that this revolution can be jump-started.

1. Land is at the center of these food security problems. 
While the relationship between people and the Earth has changed immensely, land remains an essential piece to the puzzle. Nate Kline, of the Enabling Agriculture Trade project at Fintrac, said he cannot think of another sector that is more tied to the land. “Land is the chief, primary input in all agricultural production,” he said.

2. More people live in urban areas than rural areas now.
Consequently, cities have to be connected to food distribution cycles that are reliable and can supply food to numbers of people at a dependable rate.

3. The method of organizing land will determine the answers to questions about future food security.
The way international organizations, communities, nations and families decide on organizing land, which will secure land rights and land ownership claims, will be important in answering questions about a food-secure future.

4. Food security is also about how the agricultural sector can become a more dependable way of income for people in rural areas.
The income of the poor is closely related to growth in the agricultural sector. Food security programs usually pursue raising incomes of those in poverty. When land users feel secure that their land will be in their possession however long they want to keep it, then they are more likely to finance the long-term development of their resources and land.

5. Food security often come with better land-use choices.
Conserving water and soil nutrients instead of exhausting resources will make food more secure for the future. It can also mean landholders are keener on paying the costs of equipment and fertilizers which can lead to higher incomes and more profitable crops.

6. When families sell more and better food, those yields generate income to spend for household food needs.
There is a direct connection between the access to land and willingness to make investments that may eventually pay off. With more money from profitable and nutritious crops, families have the option to invest in their nutrition as well as use the money from the crops to buy better equipment and use better management techniques. Food should be nutritious, affordable and part of a sustainable system.

In order to ensure food security, the world will need to engage with a comprehensive set of actors and work with numerous sectors.

– Colleen Moore

Sources: Devex 1, Devex 2
Photo: Eco Tope

Up until about 1990, Mongolia never faced any fears of living in poverty. Rural land specifically, and the large volume of land has been Mongolia’s source of food security and livelihood for centuries.

Mongolia owns approximately 838,853.13 square miles of land in which much of it is desert, but the arable land is quickly becoming depleted, polluted, or turned to desert.

Currently, 33% of people in Mongolia are poor, and over half of the country’s population is living in rural areas. This quickly happened after Mongolia’s large farms became private and hundreds of herders became unemployed and without government benefits.

Most of the rural poor live nomadic lifestyles, moving from area to area with their families in order to feed cattle and find food. Some families live in soums, or villages consisting of multiple families, and some rural families, particularly the nomads, live in tents known as ger. The benefit of living in soums is the ability to obtain some form of education, health services, and essential necessities.

Those living in rural areas rely on their animals for food and making money.

With much of the fertile land being utilized for feeding cattle, there has been a severe increase in land degradation. Mongolia has yet to find strengthening mechanisms for sustainable land management or a method to control desertification. Without these forms of protection, Mongolia is at an increasing risk of losing what little remains of one of their most needed natural resources: fertile land.

Desertification brings with it many struggles; drought and causing land to become irreparable are among the worst-case scenarios. With more and more of the land being overgrazed, little land will be left for agriculture, herding, and living. Mongolia is already naturally a very dry climate with little rainfall and plant growth, which is only worsened by the constant migration, over-cultivated land, and now competition for natural resources.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: Rural Poverty Portal, Scoop World
Photo: Stephane L

Zimbabwe is a low-income country with approximately 72% of the population living below the poverty line. As of 2012, Zimbabwe had a population total of 13.7 million.

Currently, Zimbabwe has been experiencing its worst food crisis in years, leaving 2.2 million people facing hunger in Zimbabwe and in need of food aid. According to Business Day, one of the largest factors in this current food crisis is the amount of farmers who are abandoning production of staple foods like maize, for products with a larger monetary gain, such as tobacco.

Many sources are adamant that Zimbabwe is facing a food crisis, but there are also those who believe that the number of people reportedly going hungry is “exaggerated.” For example Paddington Zhanda, Zimbabwe’s deputy agricultural minister, claims, “There is no crisis. If there [were] a crisis, we would have appealed for help as we have in the past. We are in for one of the best harvests we have had in years.”

Though the harvest has been decent thus far, the UN is asking for donations in order to reach a total of $60 million to help stave off or entirely prevent the increasing hunger in Zimbabwe.


One anonymous source, a senior aid worker, explains that although the rainfall boosted the harvest this year, the many previous years of drought have led the Zimbabwe economy to fall apart, and left the price of farming equipment and food inflated. “[The people of Zimbabwe] are more vulnerable than ever before. With possible good harvests this year, this situation will be a lot better next year, but not now.”

Patrick Chinamasa, Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister, claims that Zimbabwe’s economy will flourish in 2014, leading the rate of growth to increase 3% from the originally predicted 3.4% to 6.4%. His predictions are relying primarily on agriculture and production of food to pull the 2.2 million out of hunger in Zimbabwe, but Chinamasa also mentioned that the government intends to raise diamond sales 5% to help boost the economy and put the Zimbabwe back on solid ground.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: World Bank, Business Day Live
Photo: Bright Hope World