Land tenure is key to unlocking a host of sustainable development goals.
Establishing clear rights to land and resources, particularly in areas where people rely on land for their livelihoods, can generate household wealth, reduce food insecurity, drive economic growth, and create more resilient communities, along with a host of other benefits.
One method of securing land tenure is through land registration. Yet only 30% of the world’s population has land that is legally registered. This lack of land registration contributes to weak land tenure and remains a substantial obstacle to prosperity in many parts of the world.
What Is Land Tenure?
USAID defines land tenure as “the relationship that individuals and groups hold with respect to land and land-based resources, such as trees, minerals, pastures, and water. Land tenure rules define the ways in which property rights to land are allocated, transferred, used, or managed in a particular society.”
Land tenure may be governed by formal laws and public institutions or may be governed by informal systems, such as those used by many rural communities in emerging markets worldwide. In both formal and informal systems, land tenure is considered “secure” when people can be confident that their rights will be viewed as legitimate and will be correspondingly protected if challenged.
Securing land tenure within formal systems often starts with registering land rights in a public system. Once such rights are registered and recognized by a public institution, that institution or other actors need to administer the associated land records and data appropriately.
This blog focuses on key trends for securing land tenure and administering land rights through formal systems.
4 Critical Trends for Advancing Land Tenure Solutions in 2022
1. Embracing Flexible Technology Solutions to Better Document Land Rights and Meet People's Needs
Historically, land administration systems—or the systems, institutions, and processes that register, record, and manage land rights, restrictions, and responsibilities—have been implemented at a national level. Many of these national-level interventions have developed systems that are too broad and unwieldy to fit the needs of local communities. Site-specific pilot programs, on the other hand, can be too narrow and donor-dependent to successfully replicate or scale.
In response, the global development community is shifting toward new land systems that can be piloted locally yet are robust enough to be adapted at the sub-national level.
Key to this is more flexible, fit-for-purpose land technology solutions built on platforms that capture data quickly and securely and allow for communication and integration with larger national systems.
For example, Resonance worked with USAID to pilot and expand the open-source Mobile Applications to Secure Tenure (MAST). MAST engages local citizens in the process of inventorying and documenting their land and resource rights—mapping lands 9x faster than traditional surveying methods. The MAST tools and delivery model have proven to be flexible and scalable, and MAST is currently being used in a national land adjudication campaign in Tanzania, and as a placeholder until a national system can be built in Burkina Faso.
2. Prioritizing Land Tenure Solutions with a Sustainable Business Model
Many well-intentioned land administration systems fail because they lack a sustainable funding model to cover ongoing registration and system maintenance costs. To overcome these challenges, the global development community is designing and implementing land administration systems that integrate a sustainable business model or financing mechanism from the start.
Thought leaders in the land administration space have identified a range of potential financing pathways. Here are two we find promising:
- Collect Revenue from Leasing or Taxing the Use of Public Land or Charging a Fee - First, administrators of land tenure solutions may collect revenue from leasing or taxing the use of public land or charging a fee—subsidized or not—to individuals and organizations benefiting from land formalization services. For this model to be effective, land agencies need to be able to retain fees and revenues, rather than those funds going into national tax administration accounts.
- Finance Through Public-Private Partnerships - Second, land tenure solutions can be financed through public-private partnerships (PPPs) between land agencies and private sector actors. These PPPs typically involve sharing responsibilities, risks, and costs between public and private actors. While traditional PPPs have involved private land registration firms, there is increasing attention to the role and stake that other sectors, such as agriculture, forestry, and property development, have in securing land tenure. Partnerships with these actors can increase the efficiency of land registration, share the cost of land formalization, and increase the flexibility of service provision.
3. Focusing on More Inclusive, Locally-Driven Land Tenure Solutions
To secure land tenure in formal systems, implementers need local community input, buy-in, and trust in land registration and administration. Inclusive and collaborative approaches are therefore critical for accounting for local realities and building solutions that work. In particular, land tenure solutions need to be sensitive to local power dynamics, to resource constraints of local institutions, and to a community’s varied needs and perspectives toward land. Also, land-related projects need to pay particular attention to women, youth, minorities, and other groups whose land rights are most vulnerable.
For these reasons and more, we see local partners playing larger and more active roles in co-creating land tenure solutions and in guiding adaptive management and implementation. With targeted technical assistance and support in the near-term, local organizations can increasingly build critical links and provide services to communities and vulnerable groups.
4. Integrating Data Collection and Analysis for Greater Impact on Land Tenure
Good data is key to learn what works—and what doesn’t—for securing land and resource rights. Funding is limited, impact is needed, and we need to direct our attention to solutions that work.
Looking ahead, we anticipate more land administration systems and land tenure solutions will be designed with monitoring and evaluation baked in, rather than served up as an afterthought months or years after a project is launched. With this shift, we also expect that what we track and the kinds of data we collect will evolve, as the global development community and local practitioners develop a more nuanced understanding of what indicators actually signal, for example, improved land rights and social well-being—and which data are just noise.
Advancing Land Tenure Solutions in 2022 and Beyond
By securing land tenure through innovative and locally-based land registration and administration interventions, we have an opportunity to simultaneously address multiple, interconnected sustainable development challenges—thereby improving people’s lives and economic prospects.
The global development community is evolving its approach to land tenure. In the years ahead, we expect to see greater sophistication and creativity, with land tenure interventions that are locally driven, flexible, financially sustainable, inclusive, and grounded in good data.
We’re excited to continue our work with the global development community, companies, local governments, and local communities to secure land rights and land tenure in the years to come.
Tanzania Photo Credit: Jeffrey Euwema