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News & Events Webinar Recap: Land Tenure Security Revisited
Webinar Recap: Land Tenure Security Revisited
Webinar Recap: Land Tenure Security Revisited
Deforestation in Brazil
Neil Sorensen
Deforestation in Brazil

Strengthening tenure security is often considered a precondition to improved livelihoods, resilience, and sustainable resource use. Interventions from the LAND-at-scale program, which is funded by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO), employ a range of methods for achieving tenure security, such as improving land mapping and registration systems. 

On 15 December 2022 the LAND-at-scale Knowledge Management team hosted a webinar Land tenure security revisited: Do we know what we need to know?. The webinar presented the preliminary findings of a study on tenure security authored by Guus van Westen, and Jaap Zevenbergen. The presentation of the study was followed by breakout sessions on tenure security and its relationship to women's land rights, the role of the state, land conflicts, and economic development facilitated by land experts and panelists who reported back to the plenary on the discussions with their respective reflections on the findings of the study.


Opening Session and Presentation of Study




Panel discussion, reflections, and closing




Tenure security - more complex than have or do not have

Presenting the study, Guus van Westen indicated it is based on a literature review that looks at both academic literature, as well as literature from different practitioners. He indicated that tenure security is often presented as a condition for the successful attainment of downstream objectives like improving gender equality, food security, conflict management, and that it is generally assumed to lead to a multitude of benefits for people. He noted that tenure security is often presented as something binary - as something that you have or do not have - when in reality in most cases the situation is usually far more complex and evolves over time. 


Be careful with unfounded assumptions about land registration

In the study, they identified two main objectives underpinning land tenure security interventions. The first is protecting communities from external threads, or passive tenure security, which is a primary focus of the Land-at-scale program. The second objective revolves around the creation of a land market in pursuit of economic efficiency, which can be referred to as active tenure security. The authors noted that these two objectives may be conflicting. They then addressed a number of potential pitfalls due to unfounded assumptions. For example, the assumption that mapping and registration in formal systems can translate customary rights into statutory equivalents may lead to a hollowing out of certain bundles of rights, with vulnerable populations losing out in the process. They suggested that while mapping and land registration may in certain cases help to prevent conflict, land registration drives can also trigger conflicts due to submerged differences that had not yet come to light. This means that before such campaigns are launched, a thorough risk assessment must be undertaken. They also suggested that formalizing customary practices may actually entrench existing gender inequalities, despite efforts to formalize the rights of women. Regarding the often cited assumption that registration has a positive effect on productive investment, the authors found no clear evidence of a positive impact on productivity increase or even access to credits, which is often touted as one of the pathways towards improved economic performance and also income. 

Finally, they noted that while states are often seen as the key agents responsible for improving tenure security, they are inclined to highlight the importance of economic growth, which is often in conflict with a drive towards tenure security. The capacity of institutions to effectively and justly administer land governance should be considered and improved, as well as the mechanisms through which people can get access to justice. Guus finished his presentation with four elements that are important to know when implementing land governance interventions: what is the objective to be served by tenure security, what are the assumptions underpinning an intervention, continuous assessment if these assumptions hold, and having a risk mitigation strategy in place.


Women doubly punished in the extractives sector

Fridah Githuku, Executive Director of Groots Kenya, reported back on the gender break-out. She said men have land tenure privileges during marriage and even after divorce, making it very hard for women to claim their rights. With regard to extractive industries, women are doubly punished and their tenure insecurity is increased, as investors co-opt men as employees in their businesses, and thus women lose both their land and they lose the opportunity to benefit from new land use changes and land tenure regimes due to land scarcity and under-representation of women in the entire land administration system. “The experiences of women are rarely taken into account when designing this kind of the intervention that will promote secure land tenure,” she said.


Multiple forms of conflict and the need to unpack it

Marco Lankhorst, Land-At-Scale Advisory Committee Member, reported back on the conflict break-out. He emphasized the need to start unpacking what is meant by conflict, as land conflicts take place in many different forms, including disputes between neighbors or family members, intra community and inter community disputes, and also societal-level and historical land conflicts, which are often interconnected. “There are groups of people who can be affected by changes in land laws or policies who are disenfranchised, or have little rights to begin with, and who may not immediately make noise, but are in a frozen conflict where they cannot enforce their rights,” he suggested. He noted the importance of realizing that there are a range of different factors contributing to land conflicts, not all of which can be addressed through registration, including socioeconomic factors like demographics and rifts in society that have led to displacements or dispossession. He left the audience with a question on who is to judge what risks are acceptable and for whom?


The value of land beyond the economic dimension

Lorenzo Cotula, Head of the law, economies and justice programme at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), reported back on the economic development break-out. He emphasized that this discussion has been going on for a long time due to its strategic importance for national policies, where governments are looking to harness land for economic development, as well as due to highly contested measures of productivity, tenure security, for whom, and in what form. He said “many actors do not frame land tenure primarily in economic terms, but rather in social and cultural terms, questions of historical redress, and the importance of securing the rights of indigenous peoples as part of strategies to tackle climate change,” Participants in the breakout session noted that land titling can increase land values, which also increases competition for land, while there was skepticism regarding land tenure enabling landholders to secure bank loans by using land as collateral. 

The state - a slippery concept to deal with increasingly heterogeneous populations

Rick de Satgé, Senior Research Associate at Phuhlisani NPC & Knowledge Engagement Researcher for the Land Portal Foundation, reported back on the break-out discussing the role of the state. He started from the assumption that the state was seen as the key agent for the formalization of rights, noting that the State, however, remains a remarkably slippery concept. He emphasized that tenure insecure populations are increasingly heterogeneous, with farmers, pastoralists, artisanal miners or fishers, or people living in sprawling informal settlements, and they increasingly include a significant number of citizens who are either internally displaced, economic migrants, or those who have fled across borders as refugees from conflict and climate change. “In much of the Global South, boundaries were almost always arbitrarily demarcated by the colonial powers, which ignored realities on the ground,” he underscored. Governments exercise power on behalf of the state and are expected to play a significant role in securing land rights, but they may or may not democratically represent their citizens, he noted.


Focus on equality instead of efficiency

Rounding out the webinar, Jaap Zevenbergen, suggested that with or without interventions on tenure security, some groups may win and some may lose. He suggested that equality in how people access land is the key issue, even though conversations like these often end up focusing on land registration and mapping, rather than tenure security. He emphasized that most of the work that is yet to be done should focus on understanding the current inequalities and making sure the system diminishes these inequalities and not increases them. In practice this is not happening, as interventions focus on doing things more efficiently, instead of being more equitable. 


The discussions from this webinar are incorporated in the final study. Keep an eye out for its publication early 2023!