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Securing Africa’s land for shared prosperity

The greatest development challenge facing sub-Saharan Africa today is lifting 400 million of its people out of extreme poverty. The continent has abundant land and mineral resources to meet the challenge, but only if land governance can be improved. A new study, ‘Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity’, offers a ten-point programme to improve land governance by accelerating policy reforms and boosting investments at a cost of US$4.5 billion over 10 years.

It provides practical steps to turn the hugely controversial subject of “land grabs” into a development opportunity by improving land governance, not only to reduce the risks of dispossessing small farmers and local communities but also to ensure mutually-beneficial deals for investors.

Improved land governance will empower small farmers to overcome the huge productivity gap due to low yields on currently used land while new investors can make responsible investments on currently unused land and become catalysts for commercialising Africa’s subsistence agriculture.

But significant challenges abound. For example, as much as 90% of rural land in sub-Saharan Africa is undocumented, making it highly vulnerable to land grabbing and expropriation without proper compensation. Reforms and investments are needed within 10 years to document all communal lands and prime individually-owned lands. Similarly, reforms and investments can help regularise tenure rights for squatters on public land in urban slums, which are home to 70% of urban dwellers in Africa. These urban dwellers live under constant fear of eviction. The second challenge is weak governance and corruption, which often favour continuation of the status quo, to the detriment of poor people. The third challenge is garnering the political will of African governments and the necessary support from the international development community to fulfil the task.

Despite these set of challenges, the opportunities for action have never been better. First, surging commodity prices and foreign direct investment have increased the prospect of solid returns on investment in land administration. Improved land administration means greater productivity, greater income and higher returns to investment. Second, the African Union has developed a Land Policy Framework that is being implemented. This African effort, together with global initiatives including the Principles for Responsible Agro-Investment and the Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forestry, provide a shared, inclusive vision and a political springboard to boost the reform effort. Third, most African countries have basic land laws in place that recognise customary land rights and gender equality, providing the essential underpinnings to catalyse and sustain reforms. Fourth, new technologies, especially satellites and information and communications technology are helping, shaving costs and bringing the benefits of better land governance to more and more people.

Positive change is occurring, and African countries are in the driver’s seat. For example, Rwanda has completed a nation-wide programme to survey and register land at about $10 per parcel using an orthophoto map and locally trained parasurveyors. Tanzania has virtually completed surveying the boundaries of village communal lands and issued the village authorities with a title deed. Malawi has successfully piloted a willing buyer-willing seller approach to redistribute land to the poor with dramatic increases in farmer incomes. And at least 16 African countries have initiated programmes to computerise land registries and establish land information systems to increase efficiency and transparency.

Our research shows that Africa can realise the vast development promise of its land over the course of the next decade.

Some two weeks ago, I presented the ten point programme to the largest gathering of food and environmental scientists, private sector and civil society leaders at the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) General Assembly in Accra. It was heartening to hear Minister Alhaji Inusah Fuseini, Ghanaian Minister of Land and Natural Resources say “… land alone contributes in excess of 75% of the GDP of the country. The manner in which we hold and manage land has strong implications for the success of our economy.” In a nutshell, in that statement lies the hope and the call for action and change.

The ten point programme offers what I believe is a useful roadmap that can stand the test of scrutiny by governments, business leaders, and civil society. It needs stakeholders to join hands so that we can put an end to the menace of land grabs and poverty in Africa once and for all.

Investment in land governance reforms will boost food supply, increase rural incomes, and more plentiful food means cheaper food prices in Africa’s bustling towns and cities benefiting poor people in urban areas who do not grow their food but purchase it. And the urban majority living in slums and poverty will sleep soundly without fear of eviction.

Better land governance will help to secure a brighter future for all Africans.

Frank Byamugisha is Lead Land Specialist for Africa at the World Bank.

  • Chris Baulman

    When the ownership model takes hold (whether ownership be corporate or private) what happens to the “inefficient” farmers is that they are pushed off their land by industrialisation.

    Given land ownership & the industrialising, corporatising and globalising of the food chain that follows, the cat is already out of the bag. It is time for the world to reconsider its responsibility to the people who this model displaces in terms of the housing security they loose.

    In industrialised & industrialising nations, people who for generations past had enjoyed at least the basic security of a roof overhead and a patch of land for food must then win a place in the globalised market place. In the cities where employment is increasingly more competitive, they must rent from an owner. The communal model which had provided land security for them and for future generations is being replaced by an ownership model in the name of efficiency. No compensation can replace that security.

    There are growing numbers are living in slums (right now 863 million people, a considerable increase compared to the 760 million in 2000)

    Under the welfare provisions in some industrialised nations, welfare recipients are demonised & welfare is under threat from the competition (now global) which is intrinsic to the ownership model.

    I think that at the very least, the advocates & beneficiaries of the ownership model have a duty to build an alternative to “welfare” or cold charity into their model.

    My suggestion is for an urban public land provision in a model to create better urban environments for all. see

    Chris Baulman

  • Africa’s Greatest Asset – Real Estate Development Demand

    “The demand for housing, retail, resort and commercial development already exists and abounds. All that is needed now is the real estate development knowledge, skills and African land governance – making land available for private development. I believe this is about to take place and will make Africa the new frontier for Real Estate Development and deserved prosperity.”

    Richard Michael Abraham
    The REDI Foundation

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