For investors seeking to purchase, lease or access large areas of land in developing countries, understanding the complex land tenure realities – who has what rights or claims to which pieces of land – can be the difference between a failed investment and a successful, responsible one. Failing to account for or adequately compensate individuals or communities with claims to land that is slated for investment can lead to displacements or loss of livelihoods for local people and communities, and can create significant financial or reputational risks for the investor as well. For investors, conducting proper due diligence and structuring responsible land-based investments to account for all stakeholders can be extremely complex in situations where rights to land are unclear, undocumented, overlapping, or poorly enforced – which is often the case in developing countries.

For these reasons, a group of development organizations, under the leadership of Grow Africa and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, have released a new tool to help investors better understand risks related to land-based investments and manage them responsibly: the Analytical Framework for Investors Under the New Alliance. The Analytical Framework is designed to help investors identify practical steps to align their policies and actions with global best practices and relevant international guidelines, such as the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT) and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (also known as the Ruggie Principles), and the African Union’s Guiding Principles on Large-Scale Land Based Investments.

Along with a range of other bilateral and multilateral development partners, USAID played a key role in developing the Analytical Framework through a collaborative multi-stakeholder process. USAID’s Operational Guidelines for Responsible Land-Based Investment form the basis of many of the recommendations in the Analytical Framework.

As a next step, Grow Africa is seeking interested companies to pilot the framework in actual investments projects in Africa to determine their effectiveness. Please contact Grow Africa at if your firm is interested in participating in this pilot.


By Heath Cosgrove, Director, USAID’s Land Tenure and Resource Management Office.

Land tenure and property rights are at the heart of our most pressing development issues. Globally, there are more than 500 land governance programs in approximately 100 countries that recognize land rights as foundational for development work. These programs are expected to increase in the coming years because a growing body of evidence demonstrates that more secure rights to land and resources have powerful impacts on ending extreme poverty, promoting women’s empowerment, improving food security, reducing conflict, protecting biodiversity and responding to climate change. For development practitioners, better understanding and incorporating land tenure into existing and future development programming is crucial to achieving our objectives across a variety of sectors, such as agriculture, democracy and governance, environment, urban development, economic growth and disaster risk resilience.

To improve understanding of this critical issue, USAID is announcing the launch of the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on land tenure and property rights. This free course is open to the public and provides a 14-week introduction to land tenure and property rights and their critical role in international development work.

Starting September 14 and running until the end of 2015, the MOOC features lectures from leading researchers and practitioners - including experts from Yale University, Michigan State University, the International Organization for Migration, USAID, and others - presenting theories, evidence and best practices related to property rights in real-world settings. The course also examines case studies in Colombia, Haiti and Tanzania. Participants in the course will receive a certificate upon completion.

The MOOC was developed by USAID’s Land Tenure and Resource Management Office to help promote effective, accessible, and responsive land governance systems for all members of society. USAID developed this course because when it comes to understanding the myriad complex challenges created by insecure land rights–and the evidenced-based global best practices for addressing them–there has not been a shared education tool to guide development practitioners at the programmatic level until now.

Land tenure and secure property rights can be challenging issues for development practitioners across various sectors to understand and address because throughout much of the developing world rights to land and other resources are often unclear and poorly enforced. Importantly, up to 70% of land in the developing world is unregistered. In many countries, these rights are governed by complex and overlapping systems of formal laws and informal customs.

Better understanding of these systems and their implications on economic growth, food security, women’s empowerment and natural resource management can improve development programming across a range of important topics. Secure property rights change how people interact with other people and with land itself. These rights can be the tipping point as to whether farmers are willing to adopt costly multi-year agriculture programs. The ability for women to inherit and own property can be the gateway to greater gender equality. Land issues have played a major role in 27 conflicts in Africa since 1990 and have been recognized by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as international priorities. USAID’s new Land Tenure and Property Rights MOOC provides a valuable tool to understand these linkages and to improve development outcomes. I encourage you to join us and learn about this key development topic.


Harold Liversage, from IFAD, discusses the impacts of land tenure on youth.

From securing women’s inheritance rights, to enabling more responsible agricultural investment, to making cities more resilient to disasters—a growing body of evidence indicates that the systems that govern land and property rights have a significant impact on a wide range of critical development issues. Land tenure and property rights are particularly important to vulnerable groups such as women, indigenous peoples, refugees, internally displaced peoples, and the poor. But one vulnerable group has received less attention when it comes to land rights: youth.

Available evidence suggests that youth face significant and unique challenges when it comes to land and property. In many countries, rising pressures on land have left youth increasingly landless or holding only informal or secondary rights to land. This can lead to higher instances of conflict. In Ethiopia, for example, youth are more likely to experience land-related conflict than the general population. A lack of youth access to land may be a contributing factor to the civil wars in both Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Additionally, it should be noted that definitions of ‘youth’ vary widely across countries and can include individuals up to 35 years of age – in some countries the transition to adulthood requires marriage and children.

Recent research is building evidence of the impact of land tenure and property rights on youth. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has pointed out that landlessness among rural youth is one of the primary causes of migration to urban areas as young people seek out alternative sources of income. New research from USAID has begun to examine the impact of perceptions of land tenure security on youth and other vulnerable populations in Ethiopia, Guinea, Liberia and Zambia.

While more research is needed, initial findings indicate that policy makers and development practitioners engaged in land programming should take note of the unique challenges faced by youth. Policies and programs should take steps to promote youth land access and ensure that policies do not disadvantage youth with respect to land.

Download the full paper research paper from USAID.


In 2014, USAID launched the Mobile Application to Secure Tenure (MAST) pilot project in Ilalasimba, a village in Iringa Rural District in Tanzania. MAST is testing an innovative approach to document land rights that uses a new mobile application to map and record the geospatial and demographic data that the Government of Tanzania needs to issue Certificates of Customary Rights of Occupancy (CCROs) – formal land rights documents.

Before mapping begins, villagers learn about Tanzania’s land laws, with a special emphasis on women’s statutory land rights. They are taught dispute resolution techniques to help manage conflicts that might arise during mapping. And a small group of villagers were trained to use the MAST application on smart phones. Training was completed in April, 2015. Eight “Trusted Intermediaries” worked alongside members of the Ilalasimba Land Adjudication Committee to map over 900 parcels.

By leveraging open-source technology and a participatory, transparent process to deliver CCROs to villagers, MAST hopes to increase tenure security for women and men while allowing the Government to meet commitments to formalize more land rights in the country. Here is some of what some community members had to say about the project:


Later this month, several hundred villagers of Ilalasimba, Tanzania will receive formal documentation of their land rights thanks to a USAID pilot project called Mobile Application to Secure Tenure (MAST). Launched in 2014, the pilot tests an innovative approach to mapping and registering land rights. Through an easy to use, open-source mobile application, the project empowers villagers with the training and tools to identify parcel boundaries and gather the demographic and tenure information that government officials need to issue formal land rights documents called Certificates of Customary Rights of Occupancy. This makes the process of securing land rights more timely, accessible and transparent for local people and communities.


USAID has developed a participatory methodology to implement the pilot, combining the use of technology with village-wide trainings on Tanzania’s land laws to build knowledge and strengthen capacity to support dispute resolution.

The approach works this way: first, village and hamlet-level workshops provide training on the legal framework of Tanzania’s land laws to members of the Village Assembly, Village Council, Land Adjudication Committee and others, with a special emphasis on women’s rights to own and inherit land. Next, USAID works with villagers to select and train a small group of young villagers to use the mobile application on Android-based smartphones.

These young people, called Trusted Intermediaries, then work alongside members of the village Land Adjudication Committee to map the boundaries of villagers’ land and enter demographic and other information about parcel holders. The intermediaries make certain that parcel holders (or their representatives) and the neighbors of parcel holders are present when mapping occurs.

Oftentimes, conflicts arise when rights to land and property are being demarcated and recorded. In order comply with Tanzania’s law and to reduce this risk, the four women and four men on the Land Adjudication Committee play a critical role resolving disputes that arise between family members or owners of neighboring parcels and validating the claims of parcels holders.

The information collected by intermediaries is then uploaded to a cloud-based database where government officials can access and validate it. Once validated by the District Land Office, the government is able to issue formal recognition of land rights, certificates, to villagers. This community-driven process is helping build local capacity and addresses one of the major bottlenecks in the traditional process of formalizing land rights: a dearth of surveyors.

The results from first phase of the pilot project are encouraging: In just under three weeks, the intermediaries mapped and collected information for 937 parcels. Some even went a step further and learned how to validate the data that they collected in the field. Jackline Nyantalima, a 23-year old woman said of her experience as a Trusted Intermediary: “This work provided priority to women. I was trained on land rights. Before this, many people did not understand the importance of land and their rights on land. This work has importance for our society.” Her colleague, Desmond Chumbula, a 30-year old man said: “I can tell the importance of this [work]. Before we were using paces to measure land, now we have a simplified process and you really know the size of your farm.”

With greater clarity about ownership and parcel size villagers should have enhanced security and increased incentives to invest in their property. This change may be particularly important for women: as Village Council member Ms. Sandina Kasike said in May:
“Before this project, widows were dispossessed. Now I see I have rights too. This means the future generation will be better off. Even if I pass away, my grandchildren and great grandchildren will have rights to own this land.”

Now the women of Ilalasimba have greater security and protection for their assets; USAID registered 30% of parcels in the names of women alone; 40% were registered jointly to men and women and another 30% were registered to men alone.

In July, when the certificates are delivered to the women and men of Ilalasimba, the project will meet a major milestone: providing local people with formal recognition of their rights. However, the project will not end there. USAID is expanding to two other villages in Tanzania and, as a result, will help improve land tenure security and enhance capacity for several hundred more people - the beginning of a big change in Tanzania’s villages.



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