World Bank Proposals for Improved Land Governance

New and improved land governance policies may give Africa the opportunity to revolutionize agricultural productivity and eradicate poverty. Nearly half of the world’s uncultivated land is found in Africa, with nearly 202 million hectares that have the potential to produce revenue and food security for its people. Despite this fact, Africa has the highest poverty rate in the world.

A new World Bank report released on July 22nd titled “Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity” proposes that weak land governance, or the way in which land rights are defined and administered, may be the direct cause of the problem. Africa’s development record supports the argument that the continent has not made use of its abundant agricultural land and natural resources for shared and sustained growth.

It is estimated that half of all Africans will have shifted from rural areas to cities by 2050. The current gap between rich and poor communities will become steadily more pronounced as communities and governments face the challenge of growing enough nutritious and affordable food for all families on the continent.

“Despite abundant land and mineral wealth, Africa remains poor,” says Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice-President for Africa. “Improving land governance is vital for achieving rapid economic growth and translating it into significantly less poverty and more opportunity for Africans, including women who make up 70% of Africa’s farmers yet are locked out of land ownership due to customary laws. The status quo is unacceptable and must change so that all Africans can benefit from their land.”

The report lays out reforms in Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Ghana and other countries, and demonstrates how many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa recognize gender equality and customary land rights. These two issues provide a foundation for productive land administration.

10 steps have been produced, some of which are based on lessons learned from agricultural land reforms put in place in China and Brazil, as well as land rights reforms in the slums of Argentina and Indonesia. The steps include:

  • Empowering local communities and authorities to increase efficiency and transparency in land administration services.
  • Securing tenure rights for individual pilots and community lands.
  • Providing training and encouraging policy reforms to develop capacity in land administration.

According to Jamal Saghir, World Bank Director for Sustainable Development, improving Africa’s agricultural sector is necessary for growth, the creation of jobs, investment, and in turn, less poverty. Serious challenges will need to be addressed to pilot the innovative approach to improve land governance. “Land grabs” by investors have already claimed millions of hectares of land, in some instances even pushing established communities off the land.

The report, however, argues now is the right time for land reform. Growing commodity prices and strong foreign investment, established global initiatives for land reform, and new laws that recognize land rights and gender equality have created a platform for large-scale land rights progress.

– Ali Warlich

Sources: World Bank, All Africa