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New approaches to land for agricultural growth and poverty reduction

Time (GMT +01) 12:00 13:30

John Battle M

Dr Camilla Toulmin, Director of IIED and a member of the EU Taskforce on Land
Dr John Farrington, ODI Research Fellow spoke instead of Dr Klaus Deininger.

Ann McKechin MP, the APGOOD Treasurer, introduced the second meeting in the Agriculture series for APGOOD, mentioning that in her former life as a Scottish solicitor, land transactions and rights issues had often loomed large. Now we were to switch to considerations of the developing world and Africa in particular.

Camilla Toulmin, the Director of the International Institute for Environment and Development spoke first, as a (UK-nominated) member of the EU Task Force on Land. Under Philip Mikos's guidance from the European Commission, they had drawn up new European Guidelines on Land policy in development reflecting new Commission thinking - and diverging a little in emphasis from the World Bank Research report which was also circulating at the meeting. (see her presentation)

Land includes for policy purposes soils, trees, pastures, water game, fish (ie a definition broader than the traditional one).

From the EU point of view, land matters for political, economic and socio-cultural reasons. Identity and spirituality were also legitimately mentioned.

Land policy is defined to cover legislation, registration, titling, rights, redistribution, transfer, state/collective/commons/private ownership, administration and a tax system among others.

Land policy (and registration, redistribution or transfer, etc) is deemed to be a key element in reaching the MDGs, relieving poverty, facilitating or preventing urban drift, and should be an element in peace and security (even if sometimes the opposite). It was also fashionable to see new asset holding aspect of land policy as a new form of legal empowerment for the poor a la Hernando de Soto.

Despite EU progress in and broadening of this area, the meagre attention paid to land in the Commission for Africa 2005 Report (a few paragraphs) was a disappointment. The World Bank had been fixated similarly on land titling alone ever since 1975, but since the 2003 research report its multifunctional approach had been remarkably refreshing.

The UK had also played a leading role, not just in helping to produce the EU guidelines and contributing to the Klaus Deininger-led Bank Research Report during 2001-03 with professional views from Africa and Asia, but also through the Franco-British Initiative (FBI), important for West Africa given the risks of civil wars, and support for a new de Soto Commission starting 2005, with Madeleine Albright as co-Chair.

There was much common ground between EU and World Bank perspectives and eventual support strategies now:

  1. Secure land rights important, though still inaccessible to many; recognition that government can be a problem as well as a solution
  2. Recognition that countries are different, have different histories and societies, hence no single blueprint; local empowerment better
  3. Land is becoming more scarce , hence awareness of risk of land-grabs
  4. Rights can be secured in many ways, of which land titling is only one
  5. Demolition of the myth that in Africa banks give credit on the basis of title deeds and documentation
  6. Recognition that land reforms are long-term (20-30 year processes), and are essentially political before they are technical fixes
  7. Agreement that the key question is: 'Whose rights are being secured, privileged, etc?' Fairly simple politics, in other words.
Still, there were areas of divergence to be resolved.
  1. The World Bank still pro-market-assisted land reform and the willing-buyer, willing-seller approach. It rarely worked
  2. Doubts about the role for expropriation and compensation in redistributive policies.
  3. Differences of opinion about the rights of FDI incomers, bringing eventual economic growth, versus local rights and priorities.
  4. Doubts about successful micro- and other credit being through land titles
  5. Attempts to bring land into PRSPs (with everything else?) and into the MDGs process
  6. Livelihoods approaches versus the response to a globalising world over land in developing countries reflected the dichotomy seen currently in Europe over agricultural policy reform.

However, Dr Toulmin concluded by seeing secure tenure (not title) as necessary but not sufficient for development; and land needed to be taken more into account in markets and supply chain analysis.The World Bank Land Policies for Growth and Development research report (240 pp) was circulated as Dr Klaus Deininger's contribution. His presentation given by Dr John Farrington of the ODI who instead gave an Asian perspective to contrast with Dr Toulmin's on Africa.

  1. Firstly, though the World Bank was still said to be over-concerned with private/individual title rather than common land. For instance, India was losing its commons income, and such revenue streams, which could be used for and by the poor, were becoming of lesser importance.
  2. Unlike in Africa, in Asia poor people often DO have title. However they have a problem defending it, so need different forms of assistance.
  3. Dr Farrington asserted that in Asia, titles ARE used as collateral and banks were happy to accept this because being essentially bureaucratic public-owned institutions still (in those Asian countries where they were) they needed a paper trail on which to advance loans.
  4. he "Deininger Dichotomy" whereby land is important in solving poverty yet barely figures in policy documents least of all PRSPs is because politicians are understandably wary of including anything as sensitive and patronage-transparent as land policy in such policies, especially if policed by foreign donors. It is only when benefits can be easily accessed by politicians without a fuss that formal land policy reform becomes attractive to politicians
  5. In every other case, prevarication is much more attractive politically.
  6. Dr Farrington asserted that more widely across Asia, recent surveys showed that 40% of Indian farmers wanted out of agriculture, and that the draw of Shanghai, Guandong and the coastal new industrial manufacturing and now services zone in China was drawing farmers out of the western provinces too. There was a general and perhaps understandable switch out of rain fed agriculture across the developing world wherever it contended with unreliable weather and where urban industrial zones offered alternative livelihoods - except in Africa. This could either be deemed a normal process of development or a tragedy for those wedded to what our first speaker in the series, Professor Paul Collier, also previously of the World Bank, called "the myth of the Rousseauesque peasant". We were also referred to Dr Deininger's country case-studies.
  7. Technical fixes such as lightweight global positioning systems, development geometers and conventional land surveyors, manageable by private firms or individuals in a liberalised environment could mean that there could in future be less reliance on the public authorities, except for the general land-regulatory environment, but also - crucially - for disputes settlement and conflict resolution.

Dr Farrington concluded that there were still many messy issues - value enhancement valuation and reward; recompense for land and environmental loss such as in dam construction; thus the politically contentious issues over land will endure. Was it an area where donors can really add value? Maybe DFID's best strategy would be to buy into a multilateral strategy - Dr Farrington suggested the World Bank's but from Dr Toulmin's ex-officio presentation the EU's might also be a contender.

There followed ten questions which covered community buy-outs, compulsory purchase, women's land rights for gender equality, alternative credit, growing alternative land markets, mining exploitation and expropriation, land problems in urban and peri-urban settlements and a challenge from Professor Michael Lipton that 60 % of the world's population was still dependent on agriculture and so land, thus we should not rush to alternative solutions. DFID explained how it too worked with a small focus in countries where land and conflict (or even genocide) had been commonplace - Rwanda and Guyana were given as examples to show how donors do have a role at this level, and like say the, Carter Center, can maybe go where national governments are themselves too parti-pris. Zimbabwe was mentioned only twice, and obliquely only, and South Africa not even once in the presentations and Q&A. A final question asked about eventual LESS-market-based rental solutions such as share-cropping and these and other more innovative rental rather than ownership solutions were also deemed to have merit and potential, though they could also be open to capture by the middle classes in the developing world too.


During this event, speakers highlighted recent evidence on the importance of land tenure and land access for agricultural production cited by both the EU and the World Bank suggests that secure property rights over land are a precondition for pro-poor and sustainable economic growth, playing a key role in building a favourable investment climate; enabling access to credit markets; securing revenues for local governments; and building accountability, transparency and social cohesion.