Critical Insights on the Land Governance Orthodoxy | Land Portal

This panel took a critical look at the land governance orthodoxy that has consolidated on the heels of the financial crisis and outcry over "global land grabs" at the end of the 2000s. The panel began with a presentation on the “theory of change” guiding land governance interventions, profiling how the global development establishment has deployed the concept of “tenure (in)security” to advance the formalization of property rights through individual, transferrable title – claiming this will empower women and reduce poverty by providing incentives to invest, enhancing access to credit, increasing production and reducing conflict. Next, a presentation by Howard Stein, Kelly Askew, Faustin Maganga and Rie Odgaard drew on over 3,000 household surveys from across Tanzania to explore whether formalization of property rights increases security of tenure and reduces land conflicts. They find that land tenure is not seen as insecure under customary land relations; title deeds are not recognized as offering high levels of security; and there are rising incidents of land conflict fuelled by title deeds. A presentation by Milford Bateman next explored the theorized connection between land titles, credit and poverty alleviation in the world’s most microcredit-penetrated country, Cambodia, showing how the use of land as collateral has contributed to over-indebtedness, land loss, growing inequality and elite capture of locally-generated wealth. Finally, a paper by Laura German contrasted conceptions of tenure security within the land governance establishment with those documented in African ethnographies, demonstrating how dominant framings and practices marginalize other ways of being on the land and practicing security. Together, these papers revealed the land governance orthodoxy as deeply flawed, working to advance the commodification of land and accumulation for national and global elites rather than tenure and livelihood security for the rural poor.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Theories of change, or “structured set of assumptions regarding how an intervention works (or is expected to work) and how it influences (or is expected to influence) processes of change” (Vaessen 2016), are a key component of all development interventions. Yet these theories of change often fail to hold up under the evidence, and often mask the real underlying agenda driving change. In this panel, we suggest that land titling and related land governance interventions posed as responses to the “global land grab” are less pathways to women’s empowerment and tenure security for the rural poor (as profiled in the dominant theory of change), than a mechanism to commodify and financialize customary land in the global South for the benefit of local, national and foreign elites.
  • Findings from Tanzanian household survey data show 25% of households with title deeds (CCROs) still feel insecure, and there is high concern about potential landgrabbing by the central government. A majority of those without CCROs (66%) indicate a desire to have them to feel secure, yet a majority of those with CCROs (57%) indicate that the CCROs have not improved their lives. Assumptions about formalization reducing conflict also prove false as measured by the substantial rise in land conflicts in the country, the largest type of conflict taken to courts. In fact, titling appears to be a driver of conflict in many cases.
  • Findings from Cambodia, the world's most microcredit penetrated country in 2020, reveal that rather than reducing poverty through the successful promotion of local economic development (as claimed by dominant theories of change), the programmatic use of land titling to collateralize microcredit has led to a major reversal for Cambodia's poor majority. Individual over-indebtedness has soared; inequality has been exacerbated; local economies have been undermined; land has been lost; and locally-generated wealth has increasingly been extracted by local and international investors.
  • The way “tenure security” is framed in international development circles contrasts significantly with the ways in which tenure and livelihood security have been conceptualized and practiced in the African context. Local ideas about what produces security have thus been marginalized within dominant discourses and theories of change. Dominant constructs are also shown to be key to legitimating the commodification of customary land.

 

The Theories of Change Underlying Land Governance Programming

Laura German (University of Georgia), Howard Stein (University of Michigan) and Milford Bateman (Juraj Dobrila University of Pula)

 

“Theories of change are a key component of all development interventions, yet their core assumptions do not always hold up in practice. They may also mask the real underlying agenda driving change.”

 

This session reviews the theories of change underlying land governance programming from 1950 to present, with an emphasis on dominant land governance constructs in the post-2008 period. A theory of change, or program theory, has been defined as “a structured set of assumptions regarding how an intervention works (or is expected to work) and how it influences (or is expected to influence) processes of change” (Vaessen 2016). They are a key component of all development interventions, yet are often left implicit. With theories of change and their core assumptions often failing to hold true in practice, Weiss and others have called for using theories of change as a program evaluation strategy. In this presentation, we go beyond this call to highlight that the purported explanations of assumed cause-effect dynamics may not reflect the real underlying agenda driving change.  In this presentation, we highlight the dominant theory of change governing land governance interventions so that we can effectively evaluate their veracity in the presentations to follow. Key constructs within the dominant theories of change today include the tendency to attribute the poor performance of African agriculture on poorly defined rights and defective systems of property holding (1980s to the present) and the purported insecurity of (women’s) tenure under customary tenures. They also include the formalization of private (largely individual), alienable rights as the core intervention to address these concerns. And finally, it includes a suite of co-benefits that are thought to flow from this – namely, women’s empowerment (through greater access to and control over land, and ability to shape household decisions); enhanced access to credit (and an associated growth in entrepreneurship) through use of land as collateral; increased productivity through greater incentives to invest; and ultimately, poverty reduction.

 

Land Governance, Crises and Resilience in Rural Tanzania: The impact of property right formalization on security and conflict

Kelly Askew (University of Michigan), Faustin Maganga (St. John's University of Tanzania), Rie Odgaard (Danish Institute of International Studies, retired) and Howard Stein (University of Michigan)

 

“False assumptions about insecurity of tenure undergird Western drives to formalize land in Africa. Yet existing institutions and relationships clearly provide security of tenure.”

 

Our analysis of household survey data collected in 40 villages across 4 regions in Tanzania (n=2027) challenges arguments that formalizing the property rights of rural smallholders increases security of tenure and reduces land conflicts. To the contrary, we find that the majority of rural residents feel secure in their land rights in terms of feeling able to pass their land on to their children, and not feeling concern about losing their land. Moreover, local practices of transferring and inheriting land with village government recognition confer widespread security. By contrast, title deeds are not recognized as offering high levels of security. Finally, rising incidents of land conflict may be fueled by title deeds via multiple allocations. In short, the promises of titling are empirically falling far short of anticipated outcomes, begging reconsideration of the enormous expenses it entails and the resulting opportunity costs.

 

Land Titling Improves Access to Microcredit: Be Careful What You Wish For

Milford Bateman (Juraj Dobrila University of Pula, Croatia; St Marys University, Halifax, Canada; Honorary Research Associate, University of London; Fluminense Federal University, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

 

“Using land titles as collateral in order for large quantities of microcredit to be accessed and used to facilitate accelerated microenterprise development, is a strategy that is more likely to undermine rather than improve the lives and communities of the global poor.”

 

Thanks largely to the willingness of its for-profit microcredit institutions to accept individual land titles as collateral against microcredit, by 2020 Cambodia had become the world's most microcredit penetrated country. It was presumed by advocates of land titling that their blanket use by microcredit institutions would result in a decisive reduction in poverty through the successful promotion of local economic development. This claim was based on a serious misunderstanding of how poverty reduction and sustainable development is achieved at the local level. As a result, the programmatic use of land titling to collateralize microcredit has led to a major reversal for Cambodia's poor majority: individual over-indebtedness has soared; inequality has been exacerbated; local economies have been undermined thanks to the proliferation of ultra-unproductive 'no-growth' microenterprises; locally-generated wealth has increasingly been extracted by local and international investors; and land has gradually been lost by a growing number of the poor when the expensive microloans they accessed in the hope of bettering their lives cannot be repaid. While individual land titling has certain narrow longer-term benefits, the evidence from Cambodia shows that using land titles as collateral in order for the poor to access more microcredit is a policy intervention that will undermine the effort to address global poverty.

 

Contested Ontologies of Security

Laura German (University of Georgia)

 

“Instead of advancing the rights of women and those under threat by custom or land grabs, what land governance discourses and practices seem to be doing is commodifying land and enabling its financialization.”

 

In this presentation, Laura German asks the question, “What is tenure security outside dominant constructs in the English language and within dominant theories of change?” To do this, she reviewed the ethnographic evidence on sedentary agricultural and pastoralist societies, and on gendered securities, from across Africa.  She finds dominant constructs from the international development establishment frame security as something achieved through rights that are state-sanctioned, exclusive, fully alienable from persons, and privately held – ideally by an individual or married couple rather than the collective. In contrast, the ethnographic evidence reviewed reveals ontologies of security that contrast sharply with these constructs, including: (a) emphasis on duties, belonging and care as much as rights; (b) multi-faceted securities bolstered through customary practices and ontologies (as opposed to the state); (c) relational forms of security rather than private, exclusive rights; and (d) land that is exchangeable among group members but inalienable from landholding groups. It is almost as if dominant ontologies are set up to directly discredit other ways of enacting tenure and livelihood security. They are also shown to be part and parcel of land’s commodification.

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