Land tenure: coping with change
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CTA. 1998. Land tenure: coping with change. Spore 75. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Land tenure is becoming less secure in rural areas in ACP States. Competition for access to land and its resources is rising, under pressure from a variety of factors: migration from less-endowed parts of the Sahel, the growing thrust towards the...
Land tenure is becoming less secure in rural areas in ACP States. Competition for access to land and its resources is rising, under pressure from a variety of factors: migration from less-endowed parts of the Sahel, the growing thrust towards the opening up of new lands, successful policies for intensified agriculture, and the gradual inclusion of the countryside in the market place. More attention than ever is being paid to this insecurity, yet the issues seem to grow in number and in complexity, blurring hopes for a miracle solution. Modern traders find ways to use modern law to gain access to the permanent rights of customary law. The certainties of the policies of yesteryear ? of giving land rights to all ? are now in doubt, and are being replaced by a more modest pragmatism, which is perhaps more realistic. Wholesale private appropriation of land is no longer a viable option in ensuring equitable land tenure. In other words, the field is opening up to experimental approaches. Can new practices of decentralised and mediated management offer a genuine alternative? Land tenure conflicts are on the rise again, sometimes resulting in violent clashes, as were recently witnessed in eastern Niger, between pastoralists and farmers, or around gum tree orchards in Chad. They are one extreme of the surge of new interest in tenure of land and land resources, and point to the imperfections of existing policies and the dangers of inaction, as much as to the emergence of new groups keen to gain a foothold in the market for land. Some approaches which emphasise full 'ownership' rights have worked well, in an attempt to clarify land rights, and to encourage investment. Some parts of the market (urban land tenure, plantation areas) operate simply under the laws of supply and demand. Why, then, shouldn't privatisation schemes spread out into rural areas? 'Seductive maybe, but impractical' is how Professor Etienne Le Roy 1 describes the idea. It is indeed easier said than done, since considerable efforts are required for registering rural land tenure. 'In sub-Saharan Africa, 2% of land is in the public domain. Add to that the areas which are correctly recorded ? ranging from 0.2% of the national total in the Sahel to 3% in countries such as Côte d'Ivoire ? and we have about 5% of a country's land which is properly registered. Not very much'. The process of registering private land is hugely expensive as shown by the example of the Comoros. In this little nation of islands, having 650,000 inhabitants, the cost of a cadastral (land) survey and land registration would be twice the size of its national budget. Furthermore, one can be sure of serious resistance from the traditional authorities (land chiefs, in particular) who would be none too keen on weakening the foundations of their legitimacy. Conceptual doubts ... The given 'truths' of cadastral experts have also been shaken to their doctrinal foundations by recent findings. At the end of 1994, the renowned Land Tenure Centre (LTC), based in the United States of America, published its conclusions drawn from dozens of cadastral case studies. The major finding is that owning a deed of property, or not, is not a key issue in decisions about investment in rural areas in Africa. Other factors (small number of businesses, weaknesses in the legal system) are also seen as brakes on private investment. This led one LTC leader, John Bruce, to call for a change of approach, and to no longer seek to replace customary law with the modern, but to go with its flow. This requires a change of attitude, of moving from the line of confrontation, to some form of 'co-habitation'. This approach has already been tried in several places. In southern Mali, the Malian Textile Development Company (CMDT) has helped to intensify production in the cotton growing zone (through increasing productivity and cultivated areas) by working within the framework of customary law. This has been a real success story: the national cotton harvest rose from 96,000 tonnes in 1981 to 450,000 tonnes in 1997. It is not a new approach either. An example from decades ago, mentioned by Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, talks of British settlers in Tanganyika (which was to become Tanzania) gambling on greater success for their policies of mechanisation, more mixed cropping and herd improvement if they worked within customary law, through traditional chiefdoms.2 Looking closer at today, and tomorrow, our vision of land tenure is being changed by the upsurge in environmental concerns, and the obligatory reference to 'sustainable development' in developmental policies. Any reference to land tenure now has to take long-term management of natural resources, such as water and forests, into account. Finally, globalisation leads us to devote as much attention to ensuring a proper flow of resources (circulation of agricultural wealth) as to strict demarcation of land. ... and innovative practices The complexity of the land tenure puzzle is already well-known, thanks to field research. Under 'customary' approaches, community ownership (through family and lineage) means that access to land and land resources is modulated by social position and alliances between lineages. Traditional authorities can also grant land use rights to 'strangers'. The case of subtle relationships between 'native' Ivoirians in Côte d'Ivoire and 'strangers' from Burkina Faso, Mali and Ghana was observed by Alain Karsenty, a socio-economist at CIRAD (International Centre for Agricultural Research): 'Even when they have bought land, the migrants still have commitments to the native vendors ? annual gifts, tithes (parts) of the harvest, or free labour. Nor can the migrants be sure that they will be able to pass on the land they bought to their descendants.' There are many such complicated cases, but where there is a will to find solutions, there is a way. In just one village north of Lake Chad, for example, villagers made no fewer than 109 agreements on seasonal grazing with nomadic pastoralists in the region, covering routes, grazing grounds, and access to water. These agreements led to tensions between the two communities subsiding. When local community organisations are still active ? as is the case in Africa and in Melanesia ? customary law often changes with the times. Paul Mathieu3, a university specialist, tells of cases in Burkina Faso, where villagers in the department of Sapouy, south of Ouagadougou, have made arrangements which transcend the separate identities of lineages, neighbourhood or villages. Members of the native Nuni, migrants of the Mossi and Gourmantché, and Peulh pastoralists, have come together to make a pact about land use which gives all parties a fair share of access to the natural resources of the bush. Elsewhere, new approaches have been made under the heading 'land tenure forums' or 'heritage management' (see box). They have one aspect in common: they all seek to bridge the gap between land tenure management and the actual functioning of African societies and production systems, without idealising rural communities, which sometimes maintain feudal relationships, and are not free from political or religious interference. Such approaches have the wind behind them, as reform and decentralisation take hold. The growth in 'local' elections means that power is now passing into the hands of authorities who are more in tune with local realities. A hidden danger lurks in these innovative approaches: that of local isolationism. It can be avoided by making sure that (inter-) village agreements are approved by a more central regional authority, once their equitable nature has been assured. Locally-made deals can thus become defensible against outside parties, and a new form of land tenure law can emerge, which is based more on consensus ? and, in consequence, is more effective. 1 Director of the Anthropological Law Laboratory at the Sorbonne, University of Paris. 2 see 'Who owns land in Africa', Spore 48, December 1993 3 Professor at the Agricultural Faculties of Gembloux, Belgium Direct action by farmers in Burkina Faso against top-down decisions on land tenue For further information: Menaces sur les terroirs, Courrier de la Planète, number 34, Montpellier, May-June 1996. Enjeux au Sud autour de la terre, Grain de sel, number 4, Paris, December 1996. La sécurisation foncière en Afrique. Pour une gestion viable des ressources renouvelables, Étienne Le Roy, Alain Karsenty & Alain Bertrand, Karthala, Paris, 1996. Quelles politiques foncières pour l'Afrique noire rurale?, Collection of essays, compiled by Philippe Lavigne Delville, Karthala, Paris, June 1998. Bibliographie et lexique du foncier, Collection of essays, Karthala, Paris, June 1998. Information on cadastral reform and links to related Websites from the International Federation of Surveyors. Website: http://www.sli.unimelb.edu.au/fig7/ 'Briefing on Land Resources and Land Conflict' from the Royal Society, 6 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1A, UK. Website: http://www.poptel.org.uk/nuj/mike/
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