May 19, 2016 – Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, policymakers seek instruments to strengthen the property rights of landowners and farmers in rural areas, where customary laws and norms tend to shape people’s access to and ownership of land. Under customary law, women typically obtain secondary land use rights through a male spouse or relative. These undocumented rights can evaporate in the event of a spouse’s death or divorce. The lack of secure land rights for women and men can lead to under-investment and lower agricultural yields.
Hybrid land formalization interventions that recognize customary land rights can lead to important increases in investment in cash crops and tree crops for women and men and fallowing for women, even after a short period of time.
In the first randomized controlled trial of its kind, a study conducted by the World Bank Africa Gender Innovation Lab, researchers from the Development Research Group (DIME and DEC Energy & Environment) and the Paris School of Economics, provides evidence on the causal impact of Benin’s rural land use program—a large-scale land formalization program. The study, Formalizing Rural Land Rights in West Africa, is the first to provide experimental evidence on the impact of land demarcation. Early findings reveal that the program lifted agricultural investment and erased the gender gap in land fallowing in rural Benin.