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Using Community Land Rights to Build Local Governance and Reduce Land Conflicts


06/14 - 01/18


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In the past five years, commercial interest and investments in agricultural land have intensified in quantity, speed, and size over the past five years, with demand for land in Africa particularly high. Yet, while the supply of fertile land diminishes globally, pressure continues to mount to meet the demands of growing populations. Experience has shown that even when communities welcome outside investment, they can face a number of potentially destabilizing risks. These include expropriation, or reduced use, displacement, loss of livelihoods, and conflict brought on by increased competition for land. Communities are often left out of land concession-granting processes. They tend to have little power to advocate for equitable terms which support local prosperity and protect community interests. This is particularly true for communities that manage land use and ownership through customary rules, and have no formal legal title to their lands. In these contexts, communal lands not under cultivation can become flashpoints, as they are often the first to be allocated to investors, claimed by elites, and appropriated for state development projects. Studies have shown that increased scarcity and competition for land can trigger a breakdown in customary rules, especially rules that previously protected vulnerable groups' land rights and ensured that communal resources were equitably and sustainably managed. The effects for women can be particularly pronounced. Evidence shows that families may reinterpret customary rules to weaken women's right to land. This project aims to fill an important knowledge gap. Researchers will conduct the first known longitudinal study on the impact of community land registration efforts. The potential for community land protection to provide an alternative to individual land rights registration systems' remains largely unknown. Initial evidence suggests that community land protection may help to build more accountable land governance and management practices at the local and national level. This, in turn, can help increase communities' ability to negotiate with government and outside investors in cases of proposed land concessions. Efforts to secure community land titles have also produced important improvements in women's land rights and their participation in local decision-making processes. The research will take place in three countries: Liberia, Mozambique, and Uganda. Each has laws that create community land titles, and processes to formally register them. The research will draw on a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods, including randomized control trials to assess the use of different legal empowerment interventions. Researchers will also apply participatory action methods used to build community governance processes. The project team includes a strong mix of local civil society organizations. The project will build on their existing close partnership with researchers based in developed countries. This project is part of a series of projects on promoting accountability around large-scale land acquisitions in Africa.

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