World Bank wants improved management of land in Africa

African countries could effectively end land grabbing, produce more food and transform their development prospects if they modernised the complex procedures that govern land ownership and management, the World Bank has said. 
A woman cultivates land. The World Bank has urged African governments to improve land management as foreigners scramble for the continent’s resource. The New Times/File
A woman cultivates land. The World Bank has urged African governments to improve land management as foreigners scramble for the continent’s resource. The New Times/File

African countries could effectively end land grabbing, produce more food and transform their development prospects if they modernised the complex procedures that govern land ownership and management, the World Bank has said. 

In its latest report, dubbed “Securing Africa’s land for shared prosperity”, released on Tuesday, the World Bank said more than 90 per cent of Africa’s rural land is undocumented, making it highly vulnerable to land grabbing and expropriation with poor compensation. 

 

With only 10 per cent of Africa’s rural land registered, the report says, inefficient land administration means that it takes twice as long and costs twice as much to transfer land in Africa compared to industrialised countries. 

 

It blames weak governance as the leading cause for corruption in the land sector. 

 

Bridging the gap 

The report commends Rwanda for passing an organic land law with an aim of registering land ownership and rationalising land use.  

A study of the short-term impacts of Rwanda’s registration programme found that the programme improved land tenure security for women by improving access to land among legally married women and prompting better gender-neutral recording of inheritance rights. 

“The country has further made strides in implementing policies that strengthen women’s land rights,” the report said.  

Until 2004, all land in Rwanda belonged to government, though citizens would exercise the right of use. 

But by June last year, the country had completed the demarcation and adjudication of 10.3 million parcels of land and was on target to prepare and distribute seven million leases to districts by the end of 2012.

Leases are for 99 years for agricultural land categorised as individual land and for shorter periods for other uses and categories of land. 

As of March 2012, nearly one million leases had been collected. A quarterly report (to March 2012) indicated that 7 per cent of the claimants were women, 5 per cent were men, 83 per cent were married couples, and one per cent consisted of other legal entities. 

“Key interventions in Ethiopia and Rwanda included elevating women’s secondary land rights to equal those of men, legally recognising women’s inheritance rights, and allowing the joint registration of spousal land rights,” the World Bank said. 

According to the study, the design, implementation, and results of the Ethiopian and Rwandan land registration programmes imply that, when properly scaled up, these programmes can reduce existing gender gaps, thereby addressing cultural biases and historical shortcomings of land policies in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. 

Framework 

The report suggests that other countries emulate the two countries in scaling up their programmes. 

Makhtar Diop, the World Bank vice president for Africa, called for improved land governance in Africa if the continent is to achieve rapid economic growth and translate it into significantly less poverty and more opportunity for citizens. 

This should include women who make up 70 per cent of Africa’s farmers yet are locked out of land ownership due to customary laws, according to Diop. 

“The status quo is unacceptable and must change so that all Africans can benefit from their land,” he said.

The World Bank warns that unless communal and individual land rights are registered and governance 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.

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