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Landesa: Breaking the Poverty Cycle Through Land Rights

LandesaOver the last few centuries, many Western political philosophers, such as John Stuart Mill, have argued that property security is essential for humankind to maximize its potential for liberty and productivity. While almost all land and property are now legally protected in the Global North, only 30% of the world’s population has a legally registered title to their land and property, stifling economic growth and perpetuating poverty and marginalization. This is where Seattle-based organization Landesa comes in. To learn more about the organization’s work, The Borgen Project was privileged to speak with Tyler Roush, the Communications Director at Landesa.

About Landesa

Established as the “Rural Development Institute,” Landesa is a unique nongovernmental organization (NGO) aiming to tackle poverty through the power of formally and legally recognized Land Rights for individuals in the Global South. Worldwide, its valued work has helped to secure land rights for hundreds of millions of families. The NGO is a true inspiration, setting exceptionally high standards for working with and understanding the regional contexts in which it operates.

Landesa in Liberia: Land Rights Act 2018

One case highlighting the lengthiness and success of Landesa’s work is Liberia and the Land Rights Act, described as “one of the most progressive pieces of land rights legislation on the African continent.” Landesa began work in 2010 and, eight years later, had helped garner support for the Act through approval and ratification, “working alongside Liberian civil society, NGOs and the government.”

The significance of the Act was multidimensional, granting land rights to all Liberians for the first time and including strong provisions for women’s land rights. This was hugely significant since Landesa finds that “when women have stronger rights to land, they have more access to household resources, the family budget and decision making both within the household and in their local community.”

Furthermore, “women have unique insights into how land can be sustainably managed based on the types of responsibilities that they have in farming and growing food.” A large body of literature from credible organizations worldwide supports the idea that more land rights provisions for women specifically lead to increased gender equality, improved living conditions, food security, economic empowerment and reduced rates of domestic violence.

Landesa in Liberia: Post-Reform Work

Landesa’s work does not end with the successful passing of groundbreaking legislation. In fact, “after the passage of the Land Rights bill, even more work begins because now the law is in place, it needs to be implemented.” In many developing countries, a lack of education and low literacy rates can hinder land rights. So, Landesa’s next task in Liberia was to raise awareness about the new law. The Amplio Talking Books program does exactly that.

The talking book is a “durable, handheld audio device technology, developed by a Seattle-based partner, that has pre-recorded messages in local languages,” containing information about the newly found land rights and how individuals can utilize these. Community members will use and share these devices for several weeks before Landesa returns to assess what individuals have learned and answer questions. The Talking Books are then collected and taken to the next community. They have become “a really successful way to educate communities about their new rights.”

Landesa’s comprehensive education and support methods help promote peace, stability and sustainable economic development that will benefit all Liberians. Beyond the Talking Books, the organization is “supporting community land formalization, offering ongoing technical assistance for law and policy reform, strengthening government and community implementation capacity and building an evidence base to disseminate lessons to broader stakeholders.”

Projects for the Future

Roush explained to The Borgen Project that Landesa is an optimistic and bold organization that goes above and beyond in multiple regions. Another exciting effort is the Coastal Livelihoods and Mangroves Project, which “strengthens coastal land rights and promotes policies in six countries to reduce overuse of mangrove resources and protect both community livelihoods and ecosystems indispensable to confronting climate change.”

The significance of these mangrove forests is clear for both locals and non-locals, with more than 120 million individuals depending on the highly productive ecosystems for their livelihoods. Additionally, the ecosystems act as natural carbon sinks and shoreline protection from natural disasters. Landesa’s initiative is building momentum, with the organization working alongside “six countries, as well as with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), on improving law and policy around coastal access, coastal use rights for communities and helping to conserve and restore mangrove forests.”


Landesa is setting the standards of cultural understanding and sensitivity toward potentially divisive issues with a wholehearted commitment to the demanding work. The organization has assisted “720 million people in just the past five years.” With continued patience, hard work and long-term planning, there is no reason why the organization can’t help many more in the next five years.

– Arshiya Eslamdoust
Photo: Flickr