Land Policy: Sector Results Profile

April 2, 2014


In Brazil, more than 55,000 poor rural families gained access to about 1.2 million hectares of land under the Land-Based Poverty Alleviation Project, supported by the World Bank.

Scott Wallace/World Bank

Modern, efficient and transparent land administration systems are important in reducing poverty, and promoting growth and sustainable development. Security of property rights is central to preserving livelihoods, maintaining social stability, and increasing incentives for investment and for sustainable, productive land use. Making land rights transferable allows the landless to access land through sales and rental markets or through public transfers, and further increases investment incentives. Since the late 1960s, the World Bank has provided financing, technical help and training to strengthen national land administration laws, policies and public investment programs.


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countries face a common set of challenges, for which country-specific solutions need to be developed: (i) incomplete or outdated legal and regulatory frameworks; (ii) rigid land tenure classifications which do not reflect all local ethnic, cultural and legal traditions; (iii) dispersion and overlap of responsibilities across different institutions; (iv) outdated technology that makes land demarcation, regularization and titling a lengthy and expensive process; (v) poor integration of relevant land information systems;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).

In Ethiopia, land certification is giving poor farmers clear proof of their land ownership. It especially helpful for women, who are often forced off their farms when their husband dies or divorces them.

World Bank Group


The following examples illustrate the kinds of results achieved through IBRD and IDA support for modernization of land administration programs over the past 40 years.

Making land tenure more secure and improving access to credit:

Thailand: A series of three IBRD-financed land titling projects, approved in 1984, 1990 and 1994, helped the government produce over 5 million title deeds, directly benefitting an estimated 20 million people (approximately one-third of the national population at the time). The Thailand experience has been the object of considerable research, and aspects of the program have served as a model for land administration programs throughout the world. Research findings confirm the importance of secure land tenure for improving access to credit and as incentives to invest. These findings also emphasize the importance of having complementary credit programs be available and accessible, in order to achieve these results. 

Kyrgyz Republic: The IDA-financed Land and Real Estate Registration Project (FY00) supported the development of markets for land and real estate and increase their effectiveness. This was achieved by introducing a reliable and well-functioning system for the registration of rights and the creation of “Gosregister,” a state agency that established the legal and administrative basis for registration of land and real estate. By 2007, over 2.4 million immovable property objects had been registered; sales, leases and mortgages had grown, as did tax income and other economic benefits. About 45,000 mortgages valued at US$1.1 billion equivalent were registered in 2007.  

Armenia: Under the Title Registration Project (FY99), IDA promoted private sector development by implementing a transparent, parcel-based, easily accessible and reliable registration system for land and other immovable property. Almost all of the country's 2.5 million privately owned land parcels and buildings were surveyed, and about 1 million property records were stored in a central database. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina: The IDA-financed Land Registration Project (FY07) assisted in the development and adoption of new service standards in order to help improve services, transparency, speed and accuracy of registrations. Registration took many months prior to commencement of the project in 2007, but now 80 percent of all transactions are resolved in five days or less and mortgages are registered within a day in 16 of the 47 courts, including Sarajevo.

Improving post-disaster recovery:

Indonesia: Under the Reconstruction of Aceh Land Administration Project (FY05), IDA supported post-tsunami recovery efforts in Aceh through rapid community mapping, and land registration and titling. The project also introduced the concept of joint titling and gender recording. A total of 222,628 land title certificates were distributed to land owners after the tsunami, out of which 63,181 were given to women either individually or as joint owners with their spouses.  

Protecting indigenous and environmentally sensitive lands:

Nicaragua: Under the Land Administration Project (FY02), IDA helped to demarcate, title, and register 1 million ha of indigenous and ethnic community lands in the country’s Atlantic coastal region, and prepare territorial management plans with participation of the communities, their leaders and authorities, to guide future development efforts.  

Supporting peace and conflict mitigation:

Guatemala: As one of the factors underlying 30 years of civil war in Guatemala, land issues featured prominently in the 1996 Peace Accords. Lack of secure tenure rights fueled conflicts and hindered investment, especially in rural areas. Through the Land Administration Project that began in 1999, IBRD has helped to demarcate about 720,000 hectares of rural lands (2,980 properties titled and registered) and 67,000 urban parcels (28,750 of which received registered titles, and 40 percent of which are female heads of household), covering most lands in the Department of El Petén. Seventy-nine percent of land conflicts were resolved through a participatory mediation process, which was piloted under the project. A second Land Administration Project that began in 2007 is now extending these activities to several other departments in the country.  

Sri Lanka: The IDA-financed North East Housing Reconstruction Program (FY05) assisted in the reconstruction of 31,200 houses in the northeast region over a four-year period. This housing program has facilitated the return of displaced populations in the northeast, and the regularization of land titles to targeted beneficiaries. 

Demonstrating the viability of community-based approaches in securing access to land for the poor:

Honduras: The Access to Land Pilot Project (FY01) demonstrated the financial viability of community-based land reform with private financing of land acquisition.  By the end of the project, 990 families acquired 2,400 hectare, 97 percent of farmers were able to pay back loans, and farmer incomes doubled in four years.  

Malawi: The Community Based Rural Land Development Project (FY04) built on the new land policy adopted by the country in 2002 with IDA support. By May 2010, 15,000 poor families had access to land. Gross margins per hectare have risen ten-fold for hybrid maize from the pre-relocation baseline.

Brazil: Under the Land-Based Poverty Alleviation Project (FY00) families formed groups that negotiated directly with willing sellers to purchase suitable properties. They then obtained financing and technical assistance to establish themselves on or near the land and to improve the productivity of the acquired properties. Thanks to the IBRD project, more than 55,000 poor rural families gained access to about 1.2 million hectares of land.

Helping women achieve equal treatment in obtaining land rights:

Women often face difficulties in proving they own the land they work and live on. The lack of clear property rights denies them an opportunity to earn more, for example by renting the property out or using it as collateral for loans. The World Bank has helped women in Ethiopia, Honduras, Indonesia, Kosovo, Nicaragua, and Vietnam to understand their rights and secure clear land title to their properties, enabling them to get more out of their most important asset.

The Kyrgyz Republic introduced a system for the registration of land rights and an agency that established the legal and administrative basis for registration of land and real estate.

World Bank Group

Bank Group Contribution

Over the last decade (from FY04 onwards), the World Bank has supported 34 projects with land tenure as a primary theme in 27 countries, with total assistance amounting to some US$1.2 billion.  In addition, some 82 projects in 41 countries addressed land tenure issues as a secondary theme. In some cases, projects focused solely on land tenure issues; in others, land tenure issues were one of several components of broader public investment programs.  Some projects financed specific public investments, while others supported policy and institutional reforms. 

The World Bank’s active project portfolio includes 19 projects with land tenure as primary theme (amounting to some US$771 million in financing commitments) and 27 with land tenure as secondary theme (with at least $200 million in additional commitment). 

The World Bank’s strong analytical capacity and intellectual leadership has allowed operations to draw on cutting-edge research to show the importance of land issues for overall economic development. It has also helped countries formulate and build participatory national strategies to deal with land in a prioritized and well-sequenced manner. 


The World Bank has partnered with regional development banks, United Nations (UN) organizations, bilateral donors, national and local governments, and civil society organizations, in an effort to advance knowledge and support the modernization of national land policy and administration systems. The Bank has also encouraged considerable ‘South-South’ cooperation among developing countries themselves, often making it possible for government officials and technical staff involved in successful land administration projects to share their experiences with peers in other countries. 

The World Bank has actively supported preparation and endorsement (May 2012) by the Committee on Food Security (CFS) of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. The Bank is actively engaged with multiple partners (UN agencies, bilateral donors, civil society organizations) in supporting the implementation of the guidelines at the country level through widespread dissemination, capacity building, and financial support to policies and projects that enhance the governance of land tenure according to these guidelines. The World Bank Group considers these guidelines a major international instrument to guide specific policy reforms, since it provided an agreed upon framework for action, broad participation, and monitoring outcomes.

Other examples of partnerships on land policy and administration in which the World Bank has engaged include the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the UN-Habitat-Global Land Tool Network, and the G7 Pilot Program to Preserve the Brazilian Amazon. The Bank also collaborates with professional associations, such as the International Federation of Surveyors, private foundations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and several multi-donor trust funds for post-conflict and post-disaster recovery. The World Bank annually hosts an international conference on land policy and administration with over 800 participants last year alone. The Bank is a member of the Global Donor Working Group on Land, which recently launched a database of all platform donor-funded land tenure projects. The tool will improve the coordination between donors and support the implementation of the voluntary guidelines at individual and country levels. The Bank is also part of the International Land Coalition (ILC), a global alliance of civil society and international organizations which promotes secure and equitable land access.

Moving Forward 

Land and property often account for between one-half to three quarters of national wealth.  From this perspective, clarifying land ownership and occupation, resolving land disputes, and the distribution and value of land resources, as well as designing appropriate laws, regulations and institutions, are very important for growth, poverty reduction, and sustainable development.  A supportive legal framework and effective arrangements for land administration are as important to the development process as are sound laws, regulations and institutional arrangements for labor and capital.  As climate change, food price volatility, and other factors place increasing pressure on scarce natural resources, countries are facing the need to accelerate efforts to modernize land administration systems to secure land rights; ensure that they have accurate data on land resources, occupation and ownership; and that this information is organized in ways that can be easily updated and shared across institutions involved in development, post-conflict and post-disaster planning.   

The World Bank will continue to work with countries on diagnosis, policy dialogue, operational and financial support in an effort to modernize land administration systems that help protect the land rights of the poor, induce better national resource management, increase productive investment, and help diversify the sources of wealth and its distribution. 

titles and title certificates were distributed to land owners after the Aceh tsunami – more than a quarter of them naming women