The main argument of this paper is that insecurity of land tenure is a socio-political condition that can be made and unmade. This discussion paper focuses on customary land rights, particularly in the African context. The paper reveals that:
land tenure policies in the 19th and 20th century failed to recognise indigenous property rights derived through customary occupancy
these policies have deprived millions of poor of the protection they need to withstand the worst effects of social transformation and the commoditisation of land
20th century reforms often improved the access of poor to land through land redistribution and other schemes but made customary rights less secure
in Africa over 90 percent of the rural population access to land through indigenous customary mechanisms, and around 370 million of them are definably "poor"
while rights over farms and houses are not routinely interfered with, common property ownership of pastures, forests and woodlands see constant attrition through state appropriation and reallocation to investors or interest-holders of its choice
the lucrative and rising values of pasture, forest and woodland are still typically captured by governments in the form of logging, agribusiness land leasing and other fees depriving poor communities of a crucial capital base which could help them escape poverty.
The paper indicates that there are a small but growing number of cases in Africa, where customary rights are now accorded equivalent legal force with those acquired through non-indigenous systems and may be registered under state law. Pointing to the need for a more action-based and community driven process, the author argues that this will:
better resolve conceptual confusions that still surround customary tenure and which frustrate sound policy development
trigger the local level empowerment and institution-building needed to more appropriately shape, drive and sustain political will towards real removal of the chronic tenure insecurity of the poor
limit the impacts of reform that is broadly market-driven and in the African context, often seeks more to bring as much customary land into the market place for investor acquisition than to secure customary rights and benefits
bring threatened commons to the centre of reform, facilitating the evolution of stronger constructs for the ordering and protection of collective rights.
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