AMPARAFARAVOLA, April 14, 2014 - Rakoto Dieudonné lives in Amparafaravola, a rural town in northeastern Madagascar. When this small farmer wanted to buy land, following the common practice, he simply signed “a piece of paper” which was authenticated by the neighborhood chief at the time. “But now,” he says, “I’m afraid that unscrupulous people will come and take my land from me. That’s why I don’t want to risk planting crops in my fields.”
Rakoto’s fears come from the fact that the little piece of paper he signed a few years ago has no legal validity. Until 2005, only an official land title issued by the State could establish property rights in Madagascar, under a system dating back to the colonial era.
“At the time, the idea was to grant property access to a limited number of entrepreneurs following a long and expensive registration process,” explains André Teyssier, a World Bank land administration specialist. To obtain this title, he added, an owner had to wait six years on average and spend around US$500, an astronomical sum considering that it amounts to two years’ income for the average Malagasy household.
As a result, of the nearly 10 million land lots identified on this Indian Ocean island, one of the poorest countries in the world, only 500,000 were registered over the last 115 years. This dysfunctional land system has hobbled Madagascar’s economic development, with farmers such as Rakoto choosing not to make the most of their land for fear of losing their property rights.
“Some twenty years ago, I began the necessary steps to obtain a land title,” says Bako Rabenandrasana, a farmer from the small town of Behenjy. “But the process was long and expensive,” she adds. “Officials from the city had to travel to my property in the country. That was an extra fee for me. And I had to go back and forth to the city to check on the process. I ended up abandoning the idea.”