In Rivercress County, Liberia, women are planting life trees—rubber and plantain—that will bring needed income and add value to their farms (Ali Kaba, Talking Land).  Just one year ago, such investments seemed impossible.  But in the interim, the Liberian government developed a land policy that promises to grant secure land rights to rural people, and, today, change is underway.

As in Liberia, secure rights to land and natural resources are a key component of sustainable development across Africa.  Yet, many development initiatives fail to take these rights into account.  They may go unrecognized in major efforts to improve agriculture, water and sanitation, women’s empowerment, and environmental sustainability.

But encouragingly, this too is beginning to change. African governments, civil society, and their partners increasingly tackle the reform of outdated laws, institutions and customs regarding land and natural resource rights.  Innovations, experiments, successes and failures have resulted. Examples abound:

  • Burkina Faso is implementing one of the most innovative pieces of rural land legislation in West Africa. It decentralizes land management, recognizes customary practices, and formalizes community rights to common property.
  • In Kenya  a new Constitution and land laws explicitly recognize that women have equal rights to land, and pilot projects are working to make this promise a reality for Kenyan women. Meanwhile, a Community Land Law is being developed to strengthen rights to land held in common by communities.
  • In South Africa, the Makuleke people in the northern area of Kruger National Park won rights to land in a protected area, and entered into profitable agreements with private companies to promote community development. This has been hailed as a successful land restitution settlement.
  • Continent-wide, the Land Policy Initiative (LPI), a joint effort of the African Union Commission, the Economic Commission for Africa, and the African Development Bank, has promoted dialogue and is building consensus around land rights issues. African Heads of State have committed to promoting the LPI’s Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa.
  • Internationally, the Committee for World Food Security endorsed the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure  n May 2012. It outlines principles to ensure tenure and access rights to natural resources, providing a guide for both governance and responsible investments. The G20, G8, some private sector companies, and others are now backing its implementation.

Development initiatives in Africa can both learn from and contribute to these efforts.  The issue is urgent.  Without secure rights, people are less able and less likely to make investments that improve the productivity, incomes and sustainability of their land.

Every day, small-scale farmers and pastoralists lose rights to their land and natural resources. Community lands that are rich in forests and wetlands, mineral deposits and rangelands may be particularly desirable and vulnerable to investors who fail to account for the rights of local people.  In many countries, land-related conflicts are on the rise. 

Focus on Land in Africa (FOLA) is a resource for the development community, and all people concerned with sustainable development, to better understand land and natural resource rights—how they effect, and are affected by, development in Africa.

Whether you are new to the topic of land and natural resource rights, or a land tenure expert, we believe that FOLA has something to offer you, and invite you to share your experiences, suggestions and questions.

Talking Land

Today, we are launching a commentary series, “Talking Land.” It will feature the perspectives of civil society leaders, development practitioners, policy makers, and land rights experts working across the continent.  The first commentary is authored by Ali D. Kaba from the Sustainable Development Institute in Liberia. His contribution focuses on women’s land rights in Liberia with special attention to customary norms around land inheritance which often leave women at a disadvantage.We invite you to join the conversation, and help strengthen and protect land and natural resource rights in Africa. 

From the FOLA team at WRI and Landesa: Peter Veit, Darryl Vhugen, Bee Wuethrich, Reem Gaafar

 

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