Land Tenure and Property Rights: Tools for Transformational Development

LAND IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ASSETS for people throughout the world. This is particularly true for the rural and urban poor, for whom land may form the most significant part of their asset base.

Land is also the foundation for a wide range of cultural and social identities. It is a cornerstone of economic activity and regularly serves as the basis for institutional development. It is the underpinning for markets (credit, real estate, labor, rental contracts, and agriculture production). And, land and land-based natural resources are the focus of continuous planning and management for sustainable development.

Rights to land and property are fundamental to virtually every society. Secure land tenure and property rights (LTPR) are as essential to peace and stability as are rule of law, good governance, and sustainable, economic development.

LTPR and USAID as a Learning Organization

USAID and its partners have discovered a great deal over the last three decades about the relationship between property rights and economic growth, productivity, and, to a lesser extent, NRM and conflict. There are several important lessons learned from the last decade of research and policy work on property rights, with a particular emphasis on land tenure.

Secure property rights are a critical component of economic development and social stability. Inappropriate property rights policies and institutional structures that are not synchronized with economic, political, and environmental realities can undermine growth, erode natural resource bases, and catalyze violent conflict. Insecure and non-negotiable property rights are some of the critical factors that limit economic growth and democratic governance throughout the developing world.

In development programming, property rights are most frequently dealt with in the context of land reforms and land tenure reform. Programming decisions made in a variety of sectors that take land tenure into consideration can have profound impacts on land use and management, agricultural systems, and associated NRM.

Too often, land tenure and property rights reforms are measured in terms of outputs rather than impacts. For example, if one were looking only at outputs, one would measure the number of land titles issued rather than focus on increased market performance and investment, reduced conflicts, or improved sustainable management practices. Such an emphasis prevents USAID from fully understanding the efficacy and potential cross-sectoral benefits of its property rights reforms and programs.

Two years ago, USAID embarked on an effort to capture more of its LTPR experience. The results of this first effort are described in the LTPR framework — a conceptual tool for examining LTPR constraints and interventions, writ large, in international development programming. The framework draws heavily from three important USAID programming arenas: (1) the agency’s experience with land tenure reform as an economic growth tool and, to a lesser degree, natural resources programming; (2) the foreign assistance framework; and (3) the conflict assessment framework developed by USAID’s Office for Conflict Management and Mitigation.

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