Monday, August 05, 2013

Feature: Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity

The Author
By Makhtar Diop

Few development challenges in Africa are as pressing and controversial as land ownership and its persistent gap between rich and poor communities.  With a profound demographic shift in Africa from rural areas to the cities where half of all Africans will live by 2050, these gaps will become steadily more pronounced as governments and communities rise to the challenge of growing enough affordable nutritious food for all families to thrive on the continent.

In some countries in the region, these gap sallied as they are with high poverty rates and large-scale unemployment have become sufficiently wide to undermine shared growth and social cohesion.

Women are especially vulnerable. They make up 70 percent of Africa’s farmers and yet, for the most part, are locked out of land ownership by customary laws. Without a title to the land they farm, women are unable to raise the money needed to improve their small harvests or to raise living standards. This injurious legacy perpetuates poverty and blights the lives of women who are the backbone of Africa’s farming, present and future.

Many countries around the world have grappled with the challenge of landlessness and inequality of land ownership. However, in Africa, which has 202 million hectares or half the world’s total holdings of useable uncultivated fertile land, it is accentuated by extremely low agricultural productivity only 25 percent of potential. 

Despite this abundant land and mineral wealth, much of Africa remains poor and too few countries have been able to translate their rapid economic growth into significantly less poverty and more opportunity.

A timely new World Bank Report: Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity: a Program to Scale Up Reforms and Investments suggests that poor land governance, the system that determines and administers land rights, may lie at the root of this grievous problem. 

For example, the vast majority of African countries are using land administration systems they inherited at independence, along with survey and mapping techniques that are antiquated.

Not surprisingly, only 10 percent of Africa’s rural land is registered. The remaining 90 percent is undocumented and informally administered, which makes it susceptible to land grabbing, expropriation without fair compensation, and corruption. Again these consequences fall hardest on women farmers who are oft en the only breadwinners in their families.

Undocumented land is also a problem in Africa’s cities, now increasingly the destination for millions of former rural dwellers. The inhabitants of Africa’s booming cities need secure access to land to live legally without fear of eviction.

This is where scaled-up land registration combined with legal recognition of the rights of squatters on public lands, would greatly improve the lives of poor families and their ability to tend communal gardens, improve urban agriculture, and run profitable businesses.

Fortunately, there are successful examples worldwide of countries that have improved their land governance and revolutionized agriculture. For example, in 1978, China dismantled collective farms and used long-term leases to confer land rights on households, which launched an era of prolonged agricultural growth that transformed rural China and led to the largest reduction in poverty in history. In Argentina, Indonesia, and the Philippines, legal recognition of land rights for residents in slum areas have improved the quality of their housing and the value of their plots.

Based on such worldwide experience and encouraging evidence from country pilots in African countries such as Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda, this new report suggests a series of ten steps that may help to revolutionize agricultural production and eradicate poverty in Africa. These steps include improving tenure security over individual and communal lands, increasing land access and tenure for poor and vulnerable families, resolving land disputes, managing better public land, and increasing efficiency and transparency in land administration services.

Although poor land governance is daunting, the problem is not insurmountable. The last decade has witnessed an increase in concerted efforts by African countries and development partners to undertake land policy reforms and to pilot innovative approaches to improve land governance. Many of these countries either have legislation in place or initiatives in progress to address communal land rights and gender equality, the basis for sound land administration.

Surges in commodity prices and foreign direct investment have increased the potential return on investment in land administration. We must match the evidence in this report with the political will and leadership to transform African agriculture and Africa’s development prospects.

The opportunity to resolve the continents long-running struggle with land ownership and productivity has never been better. The time for action is now.

How Africa Can Transform Land Tenure, Revolutionize Agriculture and End Poverty

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to nearly half of the worlds usable, uncultivated land but so far the continent has not been able to develop these unused tracts, estimated at more than 202 million hectares, to dramatically reduce poverty and boost growth, jobs, and shared prosperity.  

According to a new World Bank report, Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity, released today, African countries and their communities could effectively end land grabs, grow significantly more food across the region, and transform their development prospects if they can modernize the complex governance procedures that govern land ownership and management over the next decade. Africa has the highest poverty rate in the world with 47.5 percent of the population living below US $1.25 a day.

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 percent of Africas 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 notes that more than 90 percent of Africa’s rural land is undocumented, making it highly vulnerable to land grabbing and expropriation with poor compensation. However based on encouraging evidence from country pilots in African countries such as Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda, Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity suggests an action plan that could help revolutionize agricultural production, end land grabbing, and eradicate extreme poverty in Africa.

The new report says it would cost African countries and their development partners, including the private sector, US $4.5 billion spread over 10 years to scale up these policy reforms and investments. 

Improving the performance and productivity of Africa’s agricultural sector is vital for broad-based growth, more jobs, investment, and substantially less poverty, says Jamal Saghir, World Bank Director for Sustainable Development in Africa. Land governance is a proven pathway to achieving transformational change and impact that will help secure Africa’s future for the benefit of all its families. 

Opportunities for Change Have Never Been Better 

Surging food commodity prices and foreign direct investment have increased the potential return on investing in effective land administration through higher agricultural yields and better market access and prices. Most African countries already have the basic land laws in place that recognize customary land rights and gender equality which are essential to reinforce needed reforms. 

In addition, new satellite and information technologies can greatly reduce the cost of land administration. A growing number of African countries are now using these technologies to reduce the costs of surveying and mapping land and computerizing their land registries to improve efficiency and reduce corruption.  

Some 26 African countries have established at least one continuously operating reference station (CORS) and about 50 CORS are contributing data to the African geodetic reference system, which, once completed, will provide a uniform coordinate reference system across the continent.  

Challenges Remain

With only 10 percent of Africa’s rural land registered, inefficient land administration means that it takes twice as long and costs twice as much to transfer land compared to industrialized countries, and weak governance is the leading cause for corruption in the land sector. 

The report warns that &unless communal and individual land rights are registered and land governance is improved, the recent surge in foreign direct investment in Africa will not generate shared and sustained growth, as disruptions will likely arise from the dispossession of local communities, and investors deals will face severe uncertainty or collapse, as witnessed in Madagascar in 2009.   

The report notes successful examples of how African governments have undertaken tough reforms, enacted laws and implemented progressive land policies that have benefited poor communities. Highlighting the need for greater capacity, the report finds that Ghana, Kenya and Uganda each have fewer than 10 professional land surveyors per one million people, compared to 197 in Malaysia and 150 in Sri Lanka.  Of Kenya’s 206 registered land surveyors, only 85 were found to be practicing.  The report points to the futility of building capacity without making complementary investments in land administration. 

Land governance issues need to be front and center in Africa to maintain and better its surging growth and achieve its development promise, says Frank Byamugisha, author of the report and Lead Land Specialist in the World Banks Africa Region. Our findings provide a useful, policy-oriented roadmap for African countries and communities to secure their own land for building shared prosperity.

As of 2002, at least 20 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa had recognized customary land rights and gender equality, a number that has nearly doubled. The African Union Commission has developed a land policy framework backed by a five year strategic plan for implementation to 2016.  

How The World Bank Group Helps To Improve Land Governance

As this report points out, Africa is home to the largest amount of land that can be brought under the plow and securing access to land is critical for millions of its people. Investing in improved land governance then offers a win-win opportunity for governments, investors and the landless.

The World Bank Group supports and endorses the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (the VGs). These guidelines are a major international instrument to inform specific policy reforms, including our own procedures and guidance to clients. The World Bank Group is already working with countries to implement the VGs, with a special focus on Africa.  

The World Bank Group and its partners have also developed the Land Governance Assessment Framework (LGAF) as a diagnostic tool to assess the status of land governance at the country level. LGAF assessments have been carried out or are under way in 18 countries, 10 of them in Africa. The World Bank Group now support 24  projects on land administration amounting to US $928 million likely the largest number of interventions on the governance of land tenure of any international development agency.

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