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With the majority of the world’s population lacking secure land and property rights, land is at the center of development challenges.  COVID-19 is further compounding the vulnerabilities of populations living in informality.

Eliminating poverty and boosting shared prosperity; increasing food security; facilitating urbanization; addressing climate change; increasing resilience and reducing fragility; reducing inequality and exclusion of vulnerable groups; and protecting the rights of minors and women in health crisis, all depend on secure land and property rights.

Reducing the number of poor living on less than $1.90 per day requires a focus on leveraging physical assets, by improving security of private, customary, and common land rights, so that more people can invest in and better manage their resources for future generations, start or grow a business, partner with the private sector, and improve their livelihoods.

Improving tenure security for both men and women responds to the Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) target of “all men and women having equal rights to ownership and control over land by 2030.” Reaching this goal will require investing in securing land and property rights through systematic campaigns to record all land rights and issue land certificates. Particulate attention should be paid to women’s land rights, vulnerable groups, and Indigenous Peoples.

Globally, significantly more men than women own land. Across 10 countries in Africa, only 12% of women, compared to 31% of men, report owning land individually. Countries outside Africa reveal similar patterns in the percentage of land owned solely by women, such as Peru (13%), Honduras (14%), Nicaragua (20%), Bangladesh (23%), and Haiti (24%). Pandemic outbreaks are known to endanger minors’ and women’s right to inherit land and property. Securing women’s access, control and ownership over land and property that they rely on for food security, housing, security, and family welfare is key to empowering women and achieving the SDGs.

More secure collective rights to land and other resources are also important for Indigenous Peoples and marginalized groups. Strengthening communal land rights of vulnerable populations does not only respond to basic norms of equality but has positive outcomes on human capital and development. In addition, it is essential to protect property rights for displace people and refugees to allow for speedy reconstruction after conflict and sustaining the peace. Regularization of land rights in informal settlements is key for reducing marginalization, improving services, and improving resilience against pandemics.

Pressure on land rights is growing. Over 4 billion people – or 55% of the world’s population – live in urban areas; by 2045 the number of people living in cities will increase to 6 billion, adding 2 billion more urban residents that require security, infrastructure and services. Secure tenure with complete land records and geospatial data are prerequisites for managing sustainable urban growth and empowering dwellers.

Secure tenure is an important pillar for agriculture and food security. Research has shown that secure tenure provides incentives for farmers to invest in land, borrow money for agricultural inputs and improvements to their land, and enable land sale and rental markets to ensure full utilization of land.  According to the FAO (State of Food and Agriculture 2010 report), closing the gender gap in agriculture could raise total agricultural output by 2.5-4%, which could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12-17%.

Secure tenure and accurate up-to-date land records enable value-based property taxes, which can contribute significantly to local government revenues and services, but this resource is commonly underutilized in low income countries (0.6% of GDP versus 2.2% for industrialized countries). Good land records allow the application of mass valuation systems providing a way towards equitable and efficient property taxes. Comprehensive inventory is key for effective management of public properties and the ability to leverage them as assets.

Secure tenure and good land governance can reduce conflicts and social tension, and tenure security is a pressing need in the immediate post-conflict period. Failing to resolve land conflicts affects economic performance and can prolong or inflame social tension.

Investment in secure tenure is a direct investment in disaster recovery ability and resilience. The more secure, formal, and reconcilable the rights and systems are, the less vulnerable the land users are for eviction or loss of livelihoods in the case of a disaster. Also, comprehensive and secure land records offer critical protection of rights when population is displaced by a disaster.

Insecure tenure and lack of up-to-date land records has a direct impact on financing and implementation of public infrastructure investments, impacting safety, public health, access to energy solutions and extractives, and access to markets and trade. 

Securing tenure has become more affordable, feasible, and accessible than ever before in history through digitalization, automation, new geospatial technologies, and crowdsourcing. However, excessive legal and procedural requirements, lack of standardization, conservative professions, change resistance, and restrictive policies limit progress. 

Last Updated: Apr 16, 2020