Land issues continue to grab headlines –and most of the time in a negative way: ‘Land grabs’ by foreign investors that ride roughshod over local rights, dispossession of farmers with little or no compensation to make way for urban developers or infrastructure, regulations and red tape that stifle private business and encourage shady deals, widespread neglect of women’s rights, and widening inequality and landlessness are all too familiar from the news and highlighting the dire consequences impact of countries failing to come to grips with one of the –literally- most fundamental issues to most poor people’s lives.
The World Bank’s 14th annual Conference on Land and Poverty which starts next Monday brings together more than 900 experts, from Government, private sector, civil society, academia, and development partners, who hope this narrative can be changed by learning from cases where things have been different: In more than 200 sessions, they will discuss examples where efforts to systematically recognize local rights and new technologies have empowered local communities to invest, where private investors work in partnership with local land users rather than against them, where urban expansion provides services to those living at the margins of towns rather than relegating them to slums, and where recognition of their land ownership helps women to take things into their own hands and actively pursue opportunities.
What is needed to make sure that such positive examples remain more than isolated incidents? Conference presentations point towards three elements: First a shared understanding by all stakeholders of existing gaps in land governance, clear indicators of progress that can be monitored, and ways in which government, private sector professionals, and civil society each can contribute to make things happen so as to build capacity and limit the power of vested interests. Second, transparency of information and an evidence-based and methodologically rigorous approach to identifying what works and what doesn’t in a way that involves local researchers and builds capacity for policy dialogue and South-South experience exchange. Third, an incremental approach that is open for innovation from the bottom and can be scaled up quickly if proven successful but that also includes mechanisms of rectifying errors (e.g. cancelling unused concessions).
The strong resonance of this event highlights the value added from combining the Bank Group’s intellectual rigor with its operational muscle and its ability to be a force for change by working with leading private sector players to setting standards that can then be more widely adopted. Further strengthening these synergies -and the collaboration with partners represented at the conference- will hopefully put stakeholders at country level in a position to address this key development issue – and thus reduce the amount of bad news on land hitting the headlines.
Registration is closed, but scores of papers by participants are downloadable from the conference website, plus three of the plenary sessions will be streamed live on our website. Visit our conference site for details: http://econ.worldbank.org/landconference2013.