Nicaragua has an estimated population of 6.55 million and is the second poorest country in Latin America. According to World Bank in 2019, 24.9 % of the country lived below the poverty line, and mostly in rural areas; 41 % of Nicaraguans live in rural areas with limited access to basic services, and 31 % of the labor force is employed in agriculture, which remains a key sector in the country's economy, even if its relative weight has decreased over time. Most of the population (59 %) is now urban, and surging urbanization and limited opportunities have led to the proliferation of poor, informally occupied settlements, often precariously located.
Strengthening property rights and modernizing land administration is central to Nicaragua's social and economic development. Recent government efforts have helped transform the land sector through new laws, modernized institutions, and systematic land regularization. However, the task is complex: previous conflicts in the country affected land records and tenure security. Years of inconsistent legal and administrative decisions regarding land contributed to tenure insecurity and undermined the population's confidence in state institutions, the capacity of which was simultaneously weakened. Estimates are that about one-third of parcels in rural areas are still held without a clear title, affecting poor agricultural producers' tenure security and access to credit, among other things. Overall, land tenure insecurity has hindered potential investments and land market transactions and generated land disputes. In addition to the need to continue the process of legalization of tenure and creating a modern cadaster, further advances need to be made on gender equity related to property rights by ensuring that current legislation allowing joint titling for couples and promoting women's land rights is implemented.
To address these challenges, the World Bank has supported Nicaragua through the First and Second Land Administration Projects: PRODEP I (2002–2013) and PRODEP II (2013–2020). Through these projects, the government has implemented a programmatic approach focused on modernizing and then consolidating the land administration framework, clarifying the land rights of poor rural and urban populations, and recognizing the land rights of Indigenous peoples.
The project specifically financed the following activities:
Delivering land legal documents and titles
Instituting a new National Integrated Cadastre-Registry Information System (Sistema Integrado de Información de Catastro y Registro -SIICAR-)
Providing staff, training, and systems to finish recording purchases/sales of properties in the land administration system and to issue cadastral certificates,
Providing training, systems, and equipment to municipalities
Training the population about conflict resolution agreements, cadastre, registry, gender, and Indigenous participation plans, among other areas
Completing land property surveys under the project area
Preparing cadaster, demarcation, and titles for the Indigenous territories within the project area
Demarcating and registering protected areas within the project area
The country's policy and legal framework have been strengthened, and key land agencies' capacities have been improved. Specifically, the government enacted laws essential for modernizing cadastre and property registry, as well as for recognizing Indigenous peoples' land rights in the Caribbean region.
In parallel, the institutional framework was consolidated with the Nicaragua Attorney General's Office (PGR) taking the lead on land issues, including acting as implementing agency for Bank-financed and other land operations. The technical capacity of the main land agencies has progressively increased, including the Nicaraguan Institute for Territorial Studies (INETER), which is responsible for the national cadastre system; the Property Intendancy (IP) under PGR, which oversees land regularization; and the property registries under the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), which manages legal records and information.
Moreover, improvements in the cadastre and regularization methodology have been mainstreamed. Through these efforts, Nicaragua has also developed a good practice model for alternative conflict resolution and has promoted gender equity in land rights.
Between 2013 and 2020, the project achieved the following key results:
Project activities benefited 935,813 people.
Legal documents went to 120,965 families, with 92,022 receiving new titles (52 % of these beneficiaries were women, either individually or as part of a couple).
The new SIICAR incorporated 51 % of the registry and cadastral information from properties in the Department of Managua and 15 % of those in the Department of Estelí.
The number of days to complete the recording of purchase/sale of properties in the land administration system was reduced from 50 to 18, and the number of days to issue a cadastral certificate was reduced from 12 to 6.
Eleven of the 59 municipalities under the project linked their municipal cadastre systems to the national cadastre system.
Seventy-one percent of conflict resolution agreements, pre-qualified as registrable, were formalized in the Property Registry.
Records were formalized for 233,810 land parcels with use or ownership rights, of which 98,642 (42%) were for women.
Both complementary areas under the project in the Indigenous territories in the Special Development Zone of Bosawas were demarcated and titled.
The cadastre was completed for four Indigenous communities of the country’s Pacific-Central region, following a culturally appropriate and acceptable participatory process.
All five protected areas under the project (one in the Department of Nueva Segovia and four in the Department of Jinotega) were successfully demarcated and registered in the National System of Protected Areas.
The Contingency Emergency Response Component (CERC) was activated to provide financial resources to support the Republic of Nicaragua's response to the COVID-19 emergency.
The World Bank, through the International Development Association, provided two IDA-financed credits totaling US$54 million equivalent to finance this project. The first IDA credit was approved on March 26, 2013, became effective on July 12, 2013, and closed on December 31, 2018; an additional financing through a second IDA credit of US$18.0 million, approved on June 26, 2017, closed on June 30, 2020. As requested by the government, a cancellation of US$4.0 million from the CERC was processed on March 24, 2014. The canceled amount was used for the Honduras and Nicaragua Catastrophe Risk Insurance Project.
During PRODEP II, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) served as a key partner, providing technical assistance, especially in monitoring and evaluation (M&E), through consultants specialized in land administration and M&E.
In the last beneficiary survey conducted in June 2020, almost 100 % of the beneficiaries were satisfied with the cadastre (99 %), regularization (100 %), and titling (99 %) of their properties under the project. Beneficiaries expressed satisfaction in finally knowing the precise measurements and boundaries of their properties and having a legal document that ensures their land tenure rights. The beneficiary survey also indicated that having a title increases the probability that the beneficiary's land will increase in value; 26 % increases have occurred on lands with title, as compared to those without it.
One of the project’s greatest achievements has been the work with Indigenous peoples to carry out the cadaster of their lands. This work started in Mosonte, with very positive results, and continued in other Indigenous communities that had been requesting strengthened land rights, for which cadastral surveying is a critical step. The dialogue with Indigenous stakeholders had broken down previously but was fully reestablished in the year 2019, most remarkably in Telpaneca as the government demonstrated its openness and commitment to adopting a methodology for working in these communities in ways consistent with their culture and concerns. Examples include placing local Indigenous peoples in technical roles and ensuring full participation of Indigenous peoples in all stages of decision-making. The trust built in Mosonte catalyzed the interest and commitment of other Indigenous communities to engage with the project. The cadaster was completed in four Indigenous communities in the Pacific and northcentral regions of the country—Mosonte, Telpaneca, San José de Cusmapa, and Las Sabanas—and 50 % of the cadastre was carried out in Pantasma and Jinotega. The government noted that including both Indigenous and non-Indigenous representatives on the teams carrying out the fieldwork facilitated the resolution of land conflicts, leading to conflict resolution agreements in 71 % of disagreements.
As part of its programmatic approach and to expand the land regularization activities and implementation of SIICAR to other areas of the country, the government of Nicaragua is implementing a third phase (PRODEP III, US$50 million), which was approved by the Bank in March 2018. Various factors will contribute to the sustainability of project outcomes:
SIICAR is already operational in two provinces of Nicaragua and is being established under PRODEP III in additional provinces.
Municipalities are being further integrated into the national cadastre system.
National capacity for land administration has been strengthened by hiring more than 700 trained technical staff.
Interinstitutional coordination and collaboration had progressively taken root as roles and responsibilities have been clarified, and real partnerships have emerged over time.