September 28, 2016

Households whose main income is derived from agriculture account for 79% of Uganda's poverty reduction from 2006 to 2013.

Land is at the center of many development challenges. With a current investment of approximately $1 billion in commitments, the World Bank invests in assisting countries to improve their systems to recognize, title, survey, and register land and property, improve their policies and laws, and develop digital land administration services, impacting millions of land tenure holders around the world.


Poverty reduction and shared prosperity, increasing food security, sustainable urbanization, addressing climate change, reducing fragility, and greater voice and inclusion of vulnerable groups depend on good land governance.

Land challenges also impact governance structures and investments in roads and infrastructure, public health, energy and extractives, and trade. 

Land and housing are the most important assets of the poor. But the poor need secure rights to turn those assets into economic opportunities. 

To succeed in reducing the number of poor living on less than $1.90 per day, efforts need to focus on assisting them to leverage their assets so they can start a new business or grow an existing one, partner with responsible private sector investors, and better manage their resources for future generations. 

Improving tenure security for both women and men can have a greater impact on household income, food security, and equity.

More secure collective rights to land and other resources are particularly important for Indigenous Peoples and marginalized groups. Strengthening the land rights of women and vulnerable populations does not only respond to basic norms of equality, but has positive outcomes on human capital and development.

It also responds to the SDG target of “all men and women having equal rights to ownership and control over land by 2030.” Reaching this goal will require independent and transactable rights to land for women. Unless women’s rights are explicitly protected, inheritance can be cumbersome and not provide a safety net. 

Improving land governance will also contribute to reducing conflict and social tension, and is a pressing need in the immediate post-conflict period. Failing to resolve widespread land conflicts can affect economic performance and social peace. While land-related grievances are often not the only source of conflict, failure to address them can increase the potential for conflict.

Estimates suggest that around 30% of land rights are registered or recorded worldwide. This means that there is much work to be done.


The World Bank supports government policies that recognize and record all forms of legitimate tenure: public and private, rural and urban, formal and customary, including those of pastoralists or others with weak rights, collective and individual, whether they be smallholders, medium-, or large-scale producers.

The Bank pays particular attention to the land rights of smallholders, women, Indigenous Peoples, and their economic empowerment.  

The World Bank is working to address land tenure insecurity through land administration projects, analytical work, and technical assistance.

World Bank Operations

The Bank invests in assisting countries to improve their systems to recognize, title, survey, and register land and property, improve their policies and laws, and develop digital land administration services. The Bank’s focus is on employing land records and infrastructure for digital services that create jobs; make transactions more transparent; promote growth; enhance planning and development; and improve equitable revenue collection, state and public asset management, and environmental protection.

The Bank is currently working in 48 countries, with a current investment of approximately $1 billion in commitments, impacting millions of land tenure holders in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Latin America, and Middle East and North Africa.

Working on the frontier of technological advances, the Bank is also investing in new geospatial technologies. 

  • In Albania and Kosovo, the Bank is piloting the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, to map and register property rights. 
  • In FYR Macedonia, Russia, Vietnam, and other countries, the Bank is supporting the establishment of National Spatial Data Infrastructures to improve decision-making for investment and natural resource management.  
  • In Lebanon, Serbia, and Turkey, the Bank supports the development of automated mass property valuation systems for more equitable and efficient property taxation, management of state assets, and transparent property markets.

Management and administration of land can generate revenue.  In Uganda, one dollar invested in land administration by the World Bank’s Competitiveness and Enterprise Development project generated three dollars in local revenue.  In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, based on research of thirteen land registration projects that have now closed, the benefit to the economy of a single registration was over 16 dollars in revenue.

International Engagement

The World Bank is working at the global and regional levels to support tenure rights, including:

  • First, contributing to the development and implementation of the UN Committee for the World Food Security’s Voluntary Land Guidelines, or VGGT, and the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment;
  • Second, supporting regional efforts, like the African Union’s Land Policy Initiative Framework and guidelines on land policy;
  • Third, promoting detailed reviews on land governance, like the Land Governance Assessment Framework, or LGAF.  These studies have been completed in 35 (16 in Africa), and the Bank is in the process of completing an additional 12 more studies; and
  • Fourth, as a founding member of the Global Donor Working Group on Land, the Bank is implementing the VGGT, and more recently helping to secure agreements among member states to include two land indicators in SDG 1 (Poverty) and 5 (Gender). 

The Bank is also engaged in high level land policy discussions in Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the Latin America and Caribbean, and Middle East and North Africa regions.

Going Forward

Property rights are critical to addressing multiple SDGs.  The global community is focused largely on SDG 1 – to end poverty in all its forms everywhere – and 5 – to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.  But success also in other Goals will be contingent on resource rights providing incentives, securing shelter, and guaranteeing access to resources.

With the current levels of investment, the global community will not significantly increase the number of poor households with secure property rights, and will likely not achieve the SDG target of “all men and women having equal rights to ownership and control over land by 2030.” 

A substantial new investment program on improving security of tenure on a mass scale in developing countries is needed.


Some notable examples of completed World Bank-financed projects in support of land governance include:

  • In Indonesia, post-tsunami recovery efforts in Aceh included community mapping and issuing over 222,000 land title certificates, about one-third going to women;
  • In Vietnam, 5 million land use certificates have been issued under the Vietnam First Land Project, 60 percent of which were issued in the names both the husband and wife;
  • In Nicaragua, 1 million hectares of indigenous land was demarcated, titled, and registered, covering roughly 20 percent of the country’s territory;
  • In Bolivia, over 580,000 ha of land were collectively titled as Original Communal Territories to Indigenous Peoples groups.
  • In Malawi, 15,000 families were assisted in acquiring access to land;
  • In Bosnia and Herzegovina, property transaction time was reduced from several months to five days or less;
  • In Brazil, 55,000 poor rural families gained access to about 1.2 million hectares of land; and
  • In FYR Macedonia, more than 50 percent of land, or 1.37 million hectares, was recorded; and registration of transactions is now done 10 times faster.