Uncertainty about land ownership and occupancy rights not only complicates development planning for governments, it can also increase vulnerability, especially of poor and marginalized groups. Moreover, it undermines incentives to take actions that are essential to improving incomes and conserving scarce resources over the longer term.
Many countries face a common set of challenges, for which country-specific solutions need to be developed: (i) incomplete or outdated legal and regulatory frameworks; (ii) rigid land tenure classifications which do not reflect all local ethnic, cultural and legal traditions; (iii) dispersion and overlap of responsibilities across different institutions; (iv) outdated technology that makes land demarcation, regularization and titling a lengthy and expensive process; (v) poor integration of relevant land information systems; (vi) limited accessibility to critical land administration services, including conflict resolution, by some portions of the population; (vii) inadequate mechanisms to ensure transparency, good governance, citizen participation and recourse in the various phases of land administration, from demarcation to titling and enforcement. Also, to get the best results from modernizing land administration systems, governments often need to make related public investments. For example, providing legal clarity about the boundaries of indigenous peoples lands and protected areas has to be accompanied by comprehensive and meaningful consultations with affected groups, strengthened monitoring and enforcement, and changing incentives for investment at the local level. Likewise, providing land titles can improve small farmers’ and entrepreneurs’ incentives to invest, but credit programs also have to be available and accessible to them.
In addition, the continued increase in food prices and cultivation of lands for bio-fuel uses has prompted a sharp increase in commercial pressure on cropland, grasslands, forested areas and water resources in both developed and emerging countries.
Two principles of land tenure policy stand out in the quest for growth and poverty reduction:
• The importance of tenure security. Security of property rights (whether through titling or customary use) and the ability to draw on local or national authorities to enforce those rights are central to preserving livelihoods, maintaining social stability, and increasing incentives for investment and for sustainable productive land use.
• Land access and transferability of rights. Allowing some measure of transferability of land rights, depending on the particular country or tenure regime circumstances, allows the landless to access land through sales and rental markets or through public transfers, and further increases productive investment incentives.
For over four decades, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA) have provided support to member countries for public investments in strengthening land policies and administration systems. The earliest programs in the late 1960s focused on land demarcation and titling in specific geographic areas, usually as part of broader land settlement or rural development programs. In the nine states of northeast Brazil, IBRD supported demarcation and titling of over half a million hectares under several rural development projects.
By the mid-1980s, the focus began to shift from securing rights in particular areas to modernizing land administration systems at the national level. One of the first and most ambitious of such efforts was the Thailand Land Titling Program. Since the mid-1990s, the World Bank has scaled up support significantly to help 19 countries of East Europe and the former Soviet Union and several Southeast Asian countries make the transition from state ownership of property and land under command economies to private ownership under market-based economies. Elsewhere, the World Bank has continued to support both modernization of land administration systems at the national level, and targeted help to specific problem areas, such as undocumented squatter settlements, indigenous lands, coastal marine zones and other environmentally sensitive areas of national or global importance.
The World Bank supports and consistently recommends government policies that implement systematic land surveying and titling programs that recognize all forms of land tenure: public and private; formal and customary, including those of pastoralists or others with weak formal rights; collective and individual, including women’s rights; and rural and urban. At the same time, respect for customary and traditional land rights should be looked at dynamically, focusing on the shortcomings (for example, women’s access to land) and striking a balance between what needs to be preserved and what needs to be changed. The World Bank approach emphasizes policy dialogue, research, public investments and operational support for the resolution of land tenure issues. The World Bank also facilitates the sharing of best practices across countries and regions. In addition to project-specific support, the World Bank continues to use its technical expertise to work with governments to strengthen their land administration institutions and assess the overall land policy framework. For example, the World Bank and several partners have developed the Land Governance Assessment Framework (LGAF), a diagnostic tool to assess the status of land governance at country level in a participatory process that draws on local expertise and existing evidence rather than on advice from outsiders. To date, LGAF assessments have been carried out or are under way in 32 countries (20 of which are in Africa).