Many of today’s increasingly complex development challenges, from rapid urban expansion to climate change, disaster resilience, and social inclusion, are intimately tied to land and the way it is used. Addressing these challenges while also ensuring individuals and communities are able to make full use of their land depends on consistent, reliable, and accessible identification of land rights.
The development community has experienced various “revolutions” over the years – from microfinance to women’s rights, from the green revolution to sustainable development. Each of these awakenings has improved our understanding of the challenges we face; each has transformed the development landscape, mostly for the better.
We now see the beginnings of another, long-overdue, revolution: this one focused on the fundamental role of land in sustainable development. Land has often been at the root of revolutions, but the coming land revolution is not about overthrowing old orders. It is based on the basic fact that much of the world has never gotten around to legally documenting land rights. According to the World Bank, only 10% of land in rural Africa and 30% of land globally is documented. This gap is the cause of widespread chaos and dysfunction around the world.
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Land and property lie at the center of many of today’s pressing development challenges. Consider that at most 10% of land in rural Africa is reliably registered. At this week‘s annual Land and Poverty Conference here at the World Bank, we will hear how this vast gap in documentation of land gap blunts access to opportunities and key services for millions of the world’s poorest people, contributes to gender inequality, and undermines environmental sustainability.
Urban population in Africa will double within the next 25 years and reach 1 billion people by 2040, but concentration of people in cities has not been accompanied by economic density.
Typical African cities share three features that constrain urban development and create daily challenges for businesses and residents: they are crowded, disconnected, and therefore costly, according to a new report titled “Africa’s Cities: Opening Doors to the World.”
Good stewardship of land – whether fertile fields or tracts on the edges of growing cities – can drive sustainable and equitable development. Done well, good land governance can enable farmers, community leaders, city planners, remote sensing scientists, researchers and relief organizations to successfully deal with climate change, urbanization, gender equality, and food security. But the complexity of land administration, and its attendant institutional and political hurdles, often hamper progress and reinforce deep-seated inequalities and inertia instead of fostering growth and shared prosperity.
This is what makes the Annual World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty happening this week at the World Bank so important. Over 1,000 experts from 115 countries have gathered here for the event and are exploring a wide range of problems and potential solutions.
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.
- land rights
Policies that aim to improve the position of women relative to men are desirable not only on equity but also on efficiency grounds. While developing countries continue to improve economic opportunities for women, inheritance laws remain strongly biased against women in many societies. When the distribution of inherited wealth is highly unequal, the effect of this disparity on economic inequality is of considerable interest. Parental bequests of material wealth and human capital investments represent central forms of intergenerational transfers that affect long-term development in far reaching ways.
The leasing or purchase of agricultural land in the developing world has become a hot button issue as the planet has grown more crowded and the pressure to stake out more arable land – whether for food or biofuels – grows. At the same time, agricultural productivity in many of the poorest communities around the globe has stagnated and, unless higher crop yields can be attained, far too many people will remain trapped in poverty. Helping such smallholders catch the wave of rising interest in farmland is a key aim of the Annual World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, which began Monday. Our theme this year is ‘Land Governance in a Rapidly Changing Environment.”
It’s clear that this year, many stakeholders who are either taking part in the conference or criticizing the event from outside think that global interest in farmland in the developing world is at a tipping point.