7 Ways USAID is Strengthening Land Rights

In dozens of countries, we’re addressing a wide range of issues, including conflict minerals, women’s rights and policy reform

Around the world, millions of people, communities and businesses lack secure rights to one of their most important economic assets — land.

Up to 70 percent of land in developing countries is unregistered and, in many countries, the systems that govern land access and property rights are weak or ineffective. For women, who generally have less access, control and ownership of land than men, this insecurity impacts them disproportionately.

Weak property rights and poor land management represent fundamental barriers to our top priority at USAID — advancing free and prosperous societies that progress beyond the need for foreign assistance. Also, given the role it plays as a source of wealth and power, land is often at the center of violent conflicts.

The evidence is clear that strong property rights are an essential foundation for economic growth and responsive democratic governance. And from Colombia to Kosovo, experience has shown that resolving land disputes and clarifying property rights can help reduce tension, create lasting stability and set the stage for productive investments and economic growth.

So, what is USAID doing to advance land rights around the world? The answer is — a lot!

We are working in dozens of countries to address a wide range of land and property rights issues — from conflict minerals to women’s rights to policy reform. Here are seven examples of some of USAID’s most promising and effective programs from across the world:

Land surveyors document property boundaries in Meta, Colombia with the support of USAID. / Jeremy Green, USAID

1. Formalizing property rights in post-conflict Colombia

Land issues were at the heart of Colombia’s long-running violent conflict, displacing an estimated 6 million people and leaving large portions of the country essentially ungoverned. Now, with a landmark peace agreement in place, USAID is working to help resolve critical land issues by supporting the Government of Colombia to formalize property rights across the country, organize the national land registry and return land to those who lost it in the civil war.

A woman in Tajikistan proudly displays the crops growing on her land. / Sandra Coburn, The Cloudburst Group

2. Enabling a land market to take root in Tajikistan

Transitioning from Soviet-style collective farms to property rights for individual farmers and a fully functioning land market are essential steps for unlocking Tajikistan’s economic growth potential and setting the country on a path to greater self-reliance. USAID is supporting land policy reforms and capacity building programs that are enabling a nascent land market, in which individual land use rights can be bought and sold, to take root.

A Tanzanian youth proudly displays USAID’s Mobile Application to Secure Tenure, a simple smartphone-based mapping tool for documenting land rights. / Freddy Feruzi for USAID

3. Documenting land rights in Tanzania with a mobile app

In rural Tanzania, USAID is using an inexpensive mobile phone-based mapping app to document land rights. Traditional land surveying equipment and processes can be very expensive and time consuming. To map and document all of the unregistered areas in rural Sub-Saharan Africa using traditional methods would take decades and cost billions. USAID’s low-cost solution has produced remarkable results — 15,000 land certificates issued to date, many to women who had been locked out of land ownership in the traditional system.

A pastoralist points to his herd of animals in Afar, Ethiopia. / Antonio Fiorente for USAID

4. Reducing tensions between farmers, herders in Ethiopia

Disputes over land access and grazing rights have long been a source of conflict between farmers and herders in Ethiopia. Since 2014, USAID has been working with pastoral herding communities to certify their rights to rangelands, building on successful previous work certifying farmers’ land use rights. Clarifying and documenting the rights of each group is helping reduce tensions and create incentives for investments and economic growth.

In Liberia, as in much of the world, women have less access and control of land than men. / Ben Ewing, The Cloudburst Group

5. Ensuring Liberian women’s land rights

Even when countries enshrine protections for women’s land rights in national laws and policies, traditions and customs can block women from actually exercising their rights. That’s why USAID is working with Government of Liberia and community leaders to address the complex mix of social and institutional barriers to women’s land rights that persist despite the country’s progress on legal reforms. This nuanced approach is working to change behavior on the ground, not just amend laws on the books.

Artisanal miners sifting for diamonds from a deposit outside of Bobi, Côte d’Ivoire. / Moustafa Cheaiteli for USAID

6. Reducing conflict over minerals

Competition over scarce minerals like diamonds and gold has driven destabilizing conflicts in countries like Cote d’Ivoire, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with property rights struggles often at the core of these disputes. USAID is working in these three countries to reduce conflict over minerals, including by clarifying property rights and access to subsurface resources for small-scale miners.

A community in Zambia’s Eastern Province proudly displays the maps resulting from USAID-supported community participatory mapping efforts. / Sandra Coburn, The Cloudburst Group

7. Using participatory community mapping

When it comes to land rights, sometimes the best solutions come from the ground up. In Burma, Ghana, Paraguay, Vietnam and Zambia, USAID is using bottom-up participatory community mapping to directly engage land users who have traditionally been overlooked. This will help empower land users themselves with the tools and understanding to better control and manage their own resources.

Read the full piece on Medium.

Customary Land Certification Reaches Zambia’s Vulnerable Populations

When Ireen Sakala, a smallholder farmer in Mkanda Chiefdom, heard about a new effort to document land ownership, she feared that as a disabled, single woman, she might be excluded. Confined to a wheelchair since childhood and unable to find employment, Ireen depends on land inherited from her parents for her family’s livelihood. Her land, like most rural land in Zambia, has no documentation and is administered through inheritance from family and verbal histories under the authority of a village headperson and the chief. With a growing population and increased land scarcity, pressures on property rights and land security are rising.

Since 2014, a local civil society organization, the Chipata District Land Alliance (CDLA), with USAID support, has helped chiefs and hundreds of villages document land allocations and provide land certificates to Ireen and hundreds of other villagers. Ireen joined her neighbors, including thousands of women, in having her land rights documented. Holding her certificate, Ireen noted, “I am very happy that equal opportunities are being accorded. I now have a certificate to my field issued in my name and I have registered my daughter as a person of interest to my land. I feel my daughter’s future to use my land is guaranteed.”

Elected as the Secretary of the Village Land Committee, Ireen has now undertaken a leadership role administering the village land register to help others in her community access the same rights she has gained.

Working with organizations such as the CDLA, Zambia’s traditional leaders and government are recognizing the benefits of strengthening community and household land rights. With over three-quarters of Zambia’s land falling under customary tenure, leadership and support from chiefs and chieftainesses creates optimism for the future in farmers like Ireen.

Video: Artisanal Mining, Property Rights, and Development

This online event will explore the key issues around artisanal mining, including its relationship to land rights, conflict, economic growth, as well as how artisanal mining may have devastating environmental consequences. And we’ll delve into how local and regional contexts for different mining commodities—such as diamonds and gold—may change how development practitioners address issues faced by artisanal communities. Register today to attend this event.

Join the discussion live on Tuesday, December 13 at 10 am EST, submit a question or comment to the panel using the form below, and connect on Twitter using the hashtag #ArtisanalMining.

Meet the Moderator

Jane Dennison, PhD Name: Jane Dennison, PhD

Affiliation: Mercury Program Officer, U.S. Department of State

About: Dr. Dennison has been the Mercury Program Officer at the U.S. Department of State for 6 years, focusing primarily on artisanal and small-scale gold mining, overseeing the grant process for 12+ projects, and participating in the organization of workshops and conferences on ASGM. Previously, she was a desk officer in the Bureau of African Affairs for Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Guinea. Prior to the State Department, she owned and operated a commercial environmental air testing laboratory where she analyzed environmental samples. She holds a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from Purdue University, is a member of the New Jersey Bar Association, and is a Certified Industrial Hygienist.

Meet the Panelists

Kim Thompson Name: Kim Thompson

Affiliation: Natural Resources Management Officer, USAID/DRC

About: Kim Thompson is a Foreign Service Environment Officer at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and currently serves in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She specializes in environmental governance and the linkages between natural resources and conflict. At USAID/DRC, she focuses on promoting responsible mineral supply chains for tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. She also serves on the Governance Committee for the Public Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade. Prior to joining USAID, Kim worked at the World Resources Institute and the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute. She holds an MA in Environmental Policy and International Development from the London School of Economics.

Catherine Picard, PhD Name: Catherine Picard, PhD

Affiliation: CBRMT Project Manager, Tetra Tech/ARD

About: Dr. Catherine Picard is an Associate with Tetra Tech/ARD’s Land Tenure and Property Sector, serving as the Project Manager for a USAID-funded project addressing conflict minerals and establishing responsible artisanal mining chains in the DRC. Prior to joining Tetra Tech, Catherine served for three years with the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, covering conflict diamonds and minerals and the transboundary management of the Nile Basin and has lived and worked throughout sub Saharan Africa for 15+ years. Catherine holds a Ph.D. in Political Ecology from Yale University and a Masters and Undergraduate degree from University of Michigan and the University of California at Berkeley, respectively.

Maina Martir-Torres, PhD Name: Maina Martir-Torres, PhD

Affiliation: Climate Change and Biodiversity Specialist, USAID/Peru

About: Dr. Maina Martir-Torres joined the U.S. Agency for International Development in 2013 as a Science and Technology Policy Fellow, assigned to the Peru Mission. While in Peru, Dr. Martir-Torres has served as the technical expert on illegal gold mining issues with a focus on the environmental degradation. In addition, she serves as the Agreement Officer Representative for the USAID-funded project “The Center for Amazonian Scientific Innovation.” Before joining USAID, Dr. Martir-Torres worked for the U.S. Department of State supporting trade-related environmental cooperation programs in Latin America and Asia. She holds a Ph.D. in Soil Science and Biochemistry from Penn State University.

Harvesting Sweet Success

How Land Rights are Helping Tajikistan’s Apricot Farmers Reap the Fruits of their Labor

Originally appeared on Medium.

In the sweltering mid-June heat, a group of farmers in Tajikistan’s Khatlon province gathered to attend a training on land rights and farming techniques for one of the region’s most promising cash crops: apricots.

Farmers attend a training on women’s land rights and learn how to dry apricots for market on a local farm in Tajikistan’s Khatlon province. Photo: Sandra Coburn / The Cloudburst Group

Tajikistan was once known for its wide variety of sweet apricots and served as a primary producer of the fruit in the region. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the outbreak of civil war in the 1990s devastated Tajikistan’s regional export fruit market. Farmers chopped down the trees for firewood and replaced the orchards with cotton fields. At the time, cotton was the nation’s most viable commercial crop due to a Soviet-era legacy that mandated cotton production on collective farms. After 1999, production began to recover, and since then, the Government of Tajikistan has made efforts to diversify agricultural production, including allocating more land for orchards.

An apricot farmer with her dried fruits in Tajikistan’s Khatlon province. Photo: Sandra Coburn / The Cloudburst Group

For this landlocked, mountainous nation, where roughly ten percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day, 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas and agriculture employs 53 percent of the workforce, cash crops like apricots represent an opportunity to increase household incomes and food security.

Apricots can be sold as fresh produce, but farmers can also dry, preserve, can,or process the fruit into juice, and sell these products long after the summer season — adding value while limiting postharvest loss and creating additional sources of revenue. Because of their ability to increase household incomes, this fruit is an appealing crop for many farmers. Apricots and other fruits play an important role in Tajikistan’s growing regional export market, and so the government is encouraging more farmers to plant orchards.

However, while apricot orchards can improve household incomes, these trees take several years to bear enough fruit to be profitable. This can make the decision to invest in this cash crop a difficult one for poor farmers, particularly if their land rights are undocumented.

In Tajikistan, individuals and families can own small “dekhan” farms, carved from former collective farms, and they can choose the crops that they plant. But a lack of information about how to withdraw from collective farms has made land tenure less secure, leaving farmers uncertain of their rights to own and use land. In addition, women make up eight out of every ten agricultural laborers and have equal legal rights to own land, but women traditionally have even less access to information as their male counterparts due to persistent cultural norms.

For farmers living without secure land rights, the costly and delayed return in investment from tree crops such as apricots may seem too risky. If farmers are not able to reap the rewards, they are less likely to make these long-term investments.

With secure land rights, Tajikistan’s farmers can now select from a wider variety of crops that bear fruit for many years to come, knowing that this is their land for each and every harvest.

An apricot farmer expanded his business to include beekeeping when he realized that bees were attracted to the fruit in his orchard. Honey is also a cash crop. Photo: Sandra Coburn / The Cloudburst Group

Since 2005, USAID has worked with the Government of Tajikistan to help individuals and families secure their land rights and use farmland more effectively. This effort continues today through Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative.

As of 2016, through the Land Reform and Farm Restructuring project, USAID, the Government of Tajikistan and local NGOs have provided 29,000 farmers with legal services, trained 88,000 Tajiks on land rights, helped 56,000 men and women register and document their land rights and established 140,000 family and individual dekhan farms. Tajikistan’s governance on land has also improved through the project, creating fourteen new pieces of legislation and a public information campaign that has made 82 percent of citizens aware of their land rights.

These secure land rights encouraged Tajik farmers to invest in diverse food crops — not just apricots but also wheat, beans, onions, tomatoes, honey and fruit trees. And with stronger rights, farmers also have incentive to learn new agricultural techniques to improve the quality and bounty of their harvest, making rural communities in this post-conflict region more food secure while increasing household incomes and expanding Tajikistan’s presence in a growing agricultural export market: a sweet outcome for this innovative program.

Two farmers drying apricots in Tajikistan’s Khatlon province. Photo: Sandra Coburn / The Cloudburst Group

USAID’s Land Reform and Farm Restructuring project is an excellent example of how land rights activities can be effectively integrated into Feed the Future programming to improve food securityhousehold incomes and women’s economic empowerment.

To learn more about USAID’s Land Reform and Farm Restructuring project visit: www.land-links.org/project/tajikistan-land-reform-and-farm-restructuring-project/

To learn about USAID’s work with land rights across the globe visit: Land-Links.org

Originally appeared on Medium.

From the Ground Up

USAID brings together farmers, communities, and the government of Burma to create policies that promote inclusive growth and mitigate climate change.

Originally appeared on Medium.

Resource Rights and Climate Change

The majority of Burma’s population is rural and depends heavily on access to shared resources — like communally-managed land and forests — for livelihood. Most of Burma’s rural population, however, does not have clear or documented rights to these shared community assets, which are owned entirely by the state. Estimates of landlessness among Burma’s rural population currently range from 30 percent to 50 percent. As a result — and as outside investment in Burma continues to increase — rural families are vulnerable to losing access to the forests and agricultural lands they depend on to larger, more powerful interests.

Global research and experience has shown that when individuals and communities do not have clear rights to resources like land and forests, they are not incentivized to protect or sustainably use those resources for the long term. Without secure rights, farmers are less likely to invest in common climate risk reduction strategies, such as irrigation or agroforestry, which often require long-term investment and maintenance. This lack of incentives can result in deforestation, soil degradation, and water depletion. Additionally, the limited understanding of resource boundaries and land rights hampers basic land use planning capabilities for sustainable land management. This is particularly important in Burma where the unchecked expansion of resource extraction efforts has led to widespread land and water pollution, and alarming rates of deforestation — a key driver of global climate change.

USAID is on the ground in Burma, supporting rural families, communities, and the government to create the fundamental policies needed to strengthen community land and forest rights, empower communities to manage their shared assets effectively, curtail deforestation, and ultimately combat global climate change.

Read the full photo essay on Medium.

Why the African Union’s Pledge to Advance Women’s Land Rights Matters

Originally appeared on the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s website, PLACE.

Earlier this year, the African Union made a groundbreaking pledge: by 2025, thirty percent of land in Africa will be allocated to women—and documented in their names.

Why does this matter?

Land is the most critical economic resource for most of the world’s rural poor. Throughout much of the developing world, women are at a severe disadvantage: they have less access, control, and ownership of this key asset. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, women make up about half of the agricultural labor force, but hold only 15 percent of the agricultural land.

When women cannot control or access land, their economic opportunities are limited and they are vulnerable to poverty, hunger, gender-based violence, and displacement. Without land rights, women often lack the incentives to make long-term improvements to the land and have greater difficulty accessing credit. And the limited amount of land that women do control is often of lower quality than that controlled by men: it may be far from water sources, for example, or located on steep inclines.

Conversely, when women do have secure land rights, they tend to invest in improvements to their property, participate in land rental markets, and earn more income. In Tanzania, women with strong land rights were three times more likely to work off-farm and almost one-and-one-half times more likely to have individual savings. They also earned nearly four times as much income …

Read the full article on PLACE.

Toward a Carbon-Neutral Future: Why Land and Resource Rights Matter

Originally appeared in Columbia University’s State of the Planet blog.

Next week, the Paris Climate Agreement will enter into force. It is hard to overstate the importance of this historic agreement and its potential impact on combating global warming and reducing emissions. Our efforts to address a rapidly changing climate will require progress on many fronts, from clean energy to land-use planning. Next week, the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment’s International Investment Conference will highlight the implications of the Paris Agreement on one of those fronts: land and resource governance—an issue that is increasingly important to USAID’s work.

Climate change is a destabilizing force that touches all sectors of society, whether agriculture, forestry, infrastructure, energy, water or health. The inherently intertwined and complex nature of climate change impacts means that strong institutions, laws and policies are critical to ensuring that these impacts don’t impinge on the rights of local populations. Key among these institutions, laws and policies are those that deal with land and resource governance …

Read the full post on the State of the Planet blog.

Taking Stock of the Voluntary Guidelines of Tenure: Lessons Learned and Best Practices

Improving tenure featured prominently at the 43rd session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), held during October 17-21 in Rome. Attention focused on identifying lessons learned and good practices following CFS’s endorsement in 2012 of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security.

A call from CFS to document successful experiences in using the Voluntary Guidelines resulted in a compilation of many examples provided by governments, civil society and private sector, and including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), USAID and the Global Donor Working Group on Land. Themes common to many of these examples are:

  • ensuring political will and sustained commitment;
  • establishing inclusive multi-stakeholder platforms and linking them to processes to reform policies, laws and systems; and
  • empowering stakeholders and enabling them to develop the capacity to actively engage in tenure-related issues and defend their rights.

In addition, the compilation recognizes the need to monitor the Voluntary Guidelines to inform stakeholders of progress in improving tenure governance, in particular for vulnerable and marginalized people.

A plenary session on monitoring the Voluntary Guidelines on October 19 was opened by the Chair of CFS, H.E. Amira Gornass, and led with panelists from governments (represented by Juan Pablo Diaz Granados Pinedo, Colombia; Ali Mohamed Camara, Senegal; and Ir Wiratno, Indonesia), civil society (Naseegh Jaffer) and the private sector (John Young Simpson). The session, moderated by Gregory Myers, also provided an opportunity for a large number of speakers from the floor to describe additional experiences of using the Voluntary Guidelines to improve governance of tenure.

A number of side events at CFS expanded on various aspects of improving the governance of tenure and the Voluntary Guidelines. Topics included monitoring, gender, law, transparency, and the implementation of the AU Declaration on Land in Africa.

A common message throughout CFS 43 was linking improvements to tenure with the Sustainable Development Goals, with the Voluntary Guidelines being viewed as the key reference for doing so. The report of the plenary session highlighted that “the VGGT have been used and applied in many countries since they were endorsed by CFS in 2012” and that “legal and policy frameworks, which have been reformed in line with the VGGT, will have a large impact on a high proportion of the population once implemented.”

The plenary session called for the use and application of the Voluntary Guidelines to be “monitored on a regular basis” and for “standardization of the quantitative indicators used across countries to measure the results [that] would improve the quantitative analysis in the future.”

CFS 43 has provided an opportunity to look forward to 11 May 2017, the fifth anniversary of the endorsement of the Voluntary Guidelines and plans are being developed for a significant event to recognise this important anniversary.

In the meantime, FAO is further developing its VGGT implementation support programme. The first phase (2012-16) addressed raising awareness of the Voluntary Guidelines and how they can be used at the global, regional and national levels; the development of capacity of different stakeholders to improve tenure governance using the Voluntary Guidelines; the development of partnerships; targeted support to a number of countries that reported on their progress at CFS 43; and the monitoring of the use of the Voluntary Guidelines to improve tenure governance. The second phase, already under way, emphasizes even more strongly support at the country level with continuing positive cooperation and support of donors.

Mobile Mapping Expands Across Africa

This post originally appeared on Medium.

Around the world, millions of people lack documented land rights. In many countries, land surveyors are rare and demand exorbitant prices for their services, mapping and land registry systems don’t work properly, and land titles— something we in the United States take for granted — can take years to issue and cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars to obtain.

But what if you could map land cheaply, efficiently, and accurately, just using an Android app?

Read the full post on Medium.