Land Tenure

Land Tenure
Photo: UNDP

Land is a critical productive asset, and many livelihoods depend on it. This is particularly so in the developing world, and even more for the some one billion people living from the easily degraded resource base in drylands. Land tenure systems in the drylands are often complex and confused, and poor people seldom have confidence in their rights to remain on the land that they farm. Land and water rights are particularly important for nomadic pastoralists whose traditional rights to traverse land and graze their livestock often come into conflict with "modern" systems of fixed rights for sedentary farmers.

The task of reversing land degradation in this important ecosystem requires significant investments in human capital and resource management systems, including land reform efforts. This is as much an issue of governance as it is a technical exercise. Land tenure systems which impose unequal access to, and control of, resources for marginal populations can contribute to the degradation of dryland areas. Effective and secure access to land resources can provide an essential incentive for land users to invest in sustainable land use practices. Legislation alone, however, may not be sufficient, and must be generated through a genuinely participatory process of reflection in order to devise or support locally specific solutions, a process which will be supported in this programme. This in turn requires political buy-in, which can be generated in part through advocacy efforts. These efforts must also be integrated into broader and long term strategies of rural development.

Land governance issues are often highly sensitive and politicized, and donors often find it difficult to intervene in land reform programmes. UNDP has a unique role to play in land reform due to its impartibility and its ability to bring together a wide range of stakeholders.

There are currently two initiatives in this area:

  1. Land Tenure Cross Practice Initiative on land rights empowerment for development.
  2. Support to SADC Land Reform Technical Facility and to land reform activities in the region.

Land Tenure Cross Practice Initiative: sustainable land management to combat desertification and drought. The objective is to promote and build UNDP capacity related to the critical and cross-cutting issues of land tenure practice areas to improve access to, productivity and sustainability of land resources through improved governance of natural resources. In this context, a global survey was undertaken on land governance issues in 120 UNDP country offices. In addition, a parallel survey was conducted to 63 land rights focused civil society organizations in 27 countries in collaboration with International Land Coalition.

The results generated from these surveys have helped in shaping and developing an action plan for UNDP’s engagement in land governance and the production of a booklet that provides guidance on how the UN can create more space on land governance issues for civil society voices. Regional summaries and national fact sheets highlighting particularly valuable projects of UNDP in this area have also been developed. A database of related projects has been created. Together these provide an insight into needs and perceptions by region, priority issues, suggested entry points, complementary partners, capacity needs, successful project modalities, etc.

Support to SADC Land Reform Technical Facility: In response to a call by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Council of Ministers, concerned about the linkages between land access and food security, a Regional Land Reform Support Facility has been established. The design of the Facility is based on a demand assessment from member clients, who highlighted a range of land related issues, many of which were common across multiple countries. Facility currently falls under the Environment and Sustainable Development Unit of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources (FANR) Directorate, SADC Secretariat.

The main programme areas of SADC Regional Land Reform Support Facility are:

  • Land Policy Formulation and Implementation (land tenure, land redistribution, land use planning and regulation and general land policy/law/institutions
  • Land Information Management, Sharing and Learning (best practice lessons, documentation, study tours, land information management needs
  • Capacity Building (training of civil society on land policy issues, promoting civil society networking
  • Research (foreign investment and new land questions)

The Facility in collaboration with the Namibia Ministry of Lands and Resettlement commissioned a study on land taxation as an instrument of land reform: learning from the Namibia experience, with financial support from UK-DFID and GTZ. This work has contributed to the poll of best practices documentation in SADC under the Facility’s programme area of Information and Communication.