Modernise Land Ownership, Management Procedures, African Govts Urged
African countries and their communities have been told they can effectively end ‘land grabs,’ grow significantly more food across the region, and transform their development prospects if they can modernise the complex governance procedures that govern land ownership and management over the next decade. This was revealed in a new World Bank report titled Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity released on Monday in Washington, US, which also noted that Africa has the highest poverty rate in the world with 47.5 per cent of the population living below $1.25 a day. The detailed report noted that sub-Saharan Africa is home to nearly half of the world’s 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 the World Bank Vice President for Africa, Makhtar Diop, “Despite abundant land and mineral wealth, Africa remains poor. 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 per cent of Africa’s 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 noted that more than 90 per cent 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 suggested an action plan that could help revolutionise agricultural production, end land grabbing, and eradicate extreme poverty in Africa.
The report suggested that Africa could finally realise its vast development promise over the course of the next decade by championing reforms and investments to document all communal lands and prime lands that are individually owned; by regularising tenure rights of squatters on public land in urban slums that are home to 60 per cent of urban dwellers in Africa; and by tackling the weak governance and corruption endemic to the land governance system in many African countries which often favour the status quo and harm the interests of poor people.
This, the report added, could also spur development, by generating the political will of African governments to mobilise behind these land reforms and attract the political and financial buy-in of the international development community.
The new report said it would cost African countries and their development partners, including the private sector, $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,” said World Bank Director for Sustainable Development in Africa, Jamal Saghir. “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.”
The report noted that 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 recognise customary land rights and gender equality which are essential to reinforce needed reforms, it added.
“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 computerising 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.
“With only 10 per cent 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 industrialised countries, and weak governance is the leading cause for corruption in the land sector”, the report added.
It warned 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.”