Guest commentary by Anna Knox, Chief of Party, USAID's LAND project in Rwanda.

Earlier this year, USAID's LAND project in Rwanda carried out field research to assess women’s land rights in practice. Rwanda has a uniquely progressive legal framework that paves the way for gender equality in land rights. Daughters and sons are entitled to inherit equal shares of their parents’ property. Parents’ gifts to children are to be given without regard to sex. A woman married under the community property regime (the default matrimonial property regime) is entitled to administer the family land when her husband dies. During the 2008-2013 land tenure regularization exercise, couples married under civil law were required to register their land jointly. Rwanda’s constitution also prohibits discrimination based on sex.

Qualitative research carried out in 20 administrative sectors of Rwanda sought to understand not only whether people were complying with laws, but the extent to which attitudes and mindsets are imbued with values of gender equality.

Some of the research’s key findings revealed:

  1. There is widespread knowledge of gendered land rights among Rwandans as a result of extensive sensitization efforts. In fact, the study found there to be much greater awareness of the law in rural communities than was suggested by Kigali-based informants who often perceive awareness to be the key constraint to women securing their land rights.
  2. Daughters are increasingly securing land through inheritance and more often in equal shares with their brothers, a major shift since the implementation of the 1999 law governing succession. Likewise, daughters are now claiming umunani from their parents, traditionally a gift given by parents to their sons at the time of the son’s marriage to start their household. Nevertheless, the size and quality of umunani daughters get is typically inferior to what is given to sons, and some women avoid claiming umunani for fear of causing conflict with their brothers or putting extra burden on their parents, especially given the very small land parcels most families in Rwanda have.
  3. Women married in civil unions not only have legal rights to land held with their husbands, but also exercise greater decision-making power over it than in the past. Nevertheless, control rights mainly extend to the ability to prevent men from unilaterally transferring the land since such transfers require the consent of both spouses. Women continue to lack bargaining power in decisions over land use and management; couples may discuss options together, but typically the man decides.
  4. Women who are in “informal” marriages or consensual unions – including women in polygamous unions – have virtually no claims to the property their partners bring into the union. Rwanda’s laws only recognize monogamous civil unions. Women who are in informal arrangements are typically unable to influence the use or sale of land or remain on that property in the case of abandonment, divorce or separation.
  5. While there is increasing application of gender equality norms, many revealed that this was “because it is the law,” not because they have embraced values of gender equality. Women, and especially young women, often faulted people’s “mindsets” for failures to make greater progress in achieving gender justice when it comes to land rights.

Rwanda is unique among many African countries in that: 1) sensitization on women’s land rights has deeply penetrated the rural sector; and 2) law and authority typically have a major influence on people’s behaviors. While leaders and advocates of gender equality can celebrate major strides in compliance with laws aiming to give women rights to land on par with men, actions do not necessarily mirror beliefs, making progress shallow and potentially fragile.

Influencing beliefs can never be as simple as preaching to people what is in the law. Likewise, gender justice cannot be achieved through a singular focus on sensitizing women and girls. Unless men and boys value gender equality, they will continue to use their relatively greater power to undermine genuine equality in control over assets.

Informed by the research findings, the LAND project will depart from traditional approaches to achieving gender equal property rights and will instead support civil society organizations to carry out awareness raising campaigns that primarily target men and boys. The campaigns will seek to reshape notions of masculinity centered on power and dominance by using messages and role models that foster notions of loving partnerships with women, valuing daughters and providing equally for one’s children, and being proud champions of fairness and equal rights among all human beings.

Read the Rwanda LAND project research report and brief.


By Frank Pichel, Land Tenure and Property Rights Specialist, USAID.

I was pleased to attend the June 2014 intersessional meeting of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) in Shanghai, China and want to share several noteworthy achievements for USAID’s ongoing efforts to strengthen land tenure and property rights and prevent conflict.

Côte d’Ivoire was welcomed back into an active role in the Kimberley Process (KP) after the United Nations lifted its nine-year-old ban on Ivorian diamond exports in April. Lifting the export ban was largely due to the Government of Côte d’Ivoire’s efforts to improve its legal and regulatory framework to comply with the KPCS. Members of the KP recognized the key role of USAID’s Property Rights and Artisanal Diamond Development (PRADD) project in this major achievement. The PRADD project, which is co-funded in Côte d’Ivoire by the European Union, has worked with the Government of Côte d’Ivoire to strengthen its diamond systems by developing procedures for production and sales tracking, enacting new customs and mining regulations, and registering thousands of miners. The project is a model for increasing legal diamond exports while improving the livelihoods of artisanal diamond mining communities.

Another important development was that the United States Government was granted observer status in the KP Working Group on Artisanal and Alluvial Production (WGAAP), which has emerged as an important mechanism for promoting economic security, formal regulation and sustainable development to increase the number of alluvial rough diamonds entering legitimate chains of custody. In 2012, USAID worked with the WGAAP to develop the Washington Declaration, which formally incorporates development objectives into the KP. Many of the Washington Declaration’s policy recommendations – from strengthening artisanal miners’ property rights to expanding access to mining inputs – are derived from lessons learned under the PRADD program (which also operates in Guinea and previously operated in Liberia and the Central African Republic).

A final noteworthy development was the KP Chair’s endorsement of a regional approach for four West African countries – Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – to comply with the KP. The objective of the regional approach is to help participating countries better coordinate to improve internal controls, mitigate smuggling vulnerabilities, and harmonize efforts to prevent the trafficking of conflict diamonds. Read more about how the PRADD project will support this regional approach in Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea.

Read more about the PRADD project in Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea.


Guest commentary by Kent Elbow, Independent Land Tenure and Property Rights Specialist.

The second edition of the “Land Tenure Meetings of Bujumbura” (Rencontres Foncières de Bujumbura), sponsored by the Swiss Agency for International Development and Cooperation (SDC), took place in Bujumbura, Burundi June 3-5, 2014. The meetings examined land tenure policies in Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and were informed by Madagascar’s experience with decentralized land tenure management over the past decade, as well as case studies from Burkina Faso, Senegal and Central African Republic.

The June 2014 meetings - building on a first set of meetings in 2011 - targeted two specific issues:

  • Use of parcel-by-parcel inventories as a means to identify and account for diverse types of (especially informal) land property rights; and
  • The challenge of achieving institutional, technical and financial sustainability of recent reforms (heretofore mostly sponsored by international donors) that support decentralized land tenure management.

Management of land tenure is particularly challenging in post-conflict countries like Burundi and Rwanda where intense demographic pressures are further complicated by the demands of returning refugees and internally displaced persons. Most land rights are not written down and exist only in the form of local customs and practices. SDC and other donors have sponsored various approaches and methodologies targeting identification and documentation of land rights based on parcel-by-parcel surveys.

Discussions during the Bujumbura meetings suggest that, at least at a general level, a standardized approach to conducting land rights surveys may be emerging. Among the standardized steps are: a communications campaign to inform rights-holders in the targeted zone; “participatory” parcel-by-parcel visits that include families and neighbors in addition to the presumed parcel “proprietor;” and a period during which declared rights may be challenged by competing claimants. While a primary parcel-level property rights holder often emerges from the surveys, identifying and recording customary access and use rights to land and resources remains a significant challenge. Women and migrants are among the user groups whose access and use rights are not always fully accounted for during the land rights formalization process. The meetings discussed that a possible response would be to accompany parcel-by-parcel land rights surveys with sociological studies that aim to document the full range of customary rights to use land and natural resources.

Another challenge to the survey approach to land and property rights identification is the sustainability of the institutions and tools that support them. For example, SDC and other donors have sponsored establishment in Burundi of decentralized Land Services in a significant number of Communes. Although the line of inquiry is somewhat preliminary at this point, the (partly theoretical and partly empirical) calculations examined during the Bujumbura meetings suggest that financial sustainability, while challenging, may be achievable.

In order to ensure a self-sustaining process for local land tenure management, Burundi’s communes need a critical mass of local participation and buy-in, and it is not yet clear that has been achieved. Among the questions debated in view of filling the possible gap between short-term local buy-in and longer-term sustainability is whether securitization of land tenure (via land certificates in the case of Burundi) should be treated as a public good to be subsidized by the central government, a private good to be purchased by land rights holders, or some combination of the two. While a definitive answer to this and other questions debated during the Bujumbura land tenure meetings remains elusive at this time, recent advances in decentralized land tenure management and conduct of property rights surveys in Burundi, Rwanda, Madagascar and elsewhere continue to appear extremely promising and worth pursuing. No further Bujumbura Land Tenure Meetings have been announced by SDC, but they would be useful in taking another step toward a more nuanced and detailed understanding of land tenure issues and appropriate policy responses currently being tested and expanded throughout Burundi and its closest neighbors.

Further Reading
  • Read more on land tenure in Burundi from USAID

On May 19, the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) began multi-stakeholder negotiations intended to finalize the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI)—a set of critical principles that can help guide national regulations, global corporate social responsibility initiatives, and individual contracts covering all types of investment in agriculture. The RAI principles were developed through a broad, inclusive multi-stakeholder process, involving governments, civil society and the private sector.

The United States Government—through a broad inter-agency group, involving the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Department of State (DOS), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agriculture Service (USDA FAS) and the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR)—is committed to making progress toward finalized RAI principles. USAID Land Tenure and Property Rights Division Chief, Dr. Gregory Myers, is leading the U.S. delegation for the negotiations.

The United States Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome welcomed the ongoing negotiations with the following press release:

The United States is pleased to participate in negotiations on the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI) this week as part of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) in Rome. These multi-stakeholder negotiations are intended to finalize critical principles that can help guide national regulations, global corporate social responsibility initiatives, and individual contracts covering all types of investment in agriculture.

With the world population expected to reach nine billion people by the year 2050, FAO estimates that we will need to increase agricultural production by 60 percent to ensure that everyone is fed. “The task of ensuring enough food for our growing population is too large for governments and public-sector organizations alone,” notes U.S. Ambassador to the UN Agencies in Rome, David Lane. “We must engage the private sector more effectively—including smallholder farmers themselves—to promote much needed private sector investment that will contribute to achieving better food security and nutrition outcomes.”

The United States believes that RAI can provide a clear, practical and predictable guiding framework for investment in agriculture that is pro-growth as well as pro-poor. According to USAID Land Tenure and Property Rights Division Chief, Dr. Gregory Myers, who is leading the U.S. delegation for the RAI negotiations, “An increasing number of private sector firms are taking steps to improve corporate practices related to agricultural investments, especially those involving large-scale land transactions. Yet, many companies still lack a clear understanding of what exactly these practices should entail. For that reason, the U.S. is pleased that the global community has come together to develop clear guidance through a common set of voluntary principles that reflect best practice in responsible agricultural investment.”

CFS negotiations on the RAI Principles began on May 19. The RAI will build on the accomplishments achieved with The Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, which were unanimously adopted by the CFS two years ago this month through a broad and inclusive consultation process involving civil society, the private sector, and governments, that is the hallmark of the CFS. The RAI Principles promise to be an equally important tool for addressing global food security.


Guest Commentary by Provash Budden, Mercy Corps' Colombia Country Director.

This week, Mercy Corps Colombia and Guatemala are hosting the 14th regional exchange between government institutions of Guatemala and Colombia. This exchange aims to share knowledge to improve public policies and public and private institutional responses aimed at the rural sector in both countries and the opportunity to share best practices that address the processes of individual and collective certification of public and private property. Mercy Corps is also facilitating the exchange of ideas about the challenges to achieve lasting peace by addressing the structural problems of the rural sector, land use and the victims and minority ethnic groups affected by armed conflict.

Throughout the week you can follow the conversations and activities of this exchange in Bogota and also in Tolima where participants will travel to learn more about Mercy Corps’ work with coffee farmers who are formalizing property, improving coffee production and protecting natural resources. Blogs, pictures, video and activities will be posted on Mercy Corps’ Red Tierra web site This site is managed in Spanish but comments in English are welcome.

Participating in the exchange are 10 officials from Guatemala who include the Director of the Land Fund, the Director of the RIC, six managers of these two institutions, two Senators of the Republic of Guatemala who are involved in the commission of land and two officials from Mercy Corps Guatemala. These officials will meet with high-level delegates of the Colombian State including the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Director of INCODER, the Director of IGAC, the Managers of the Land Restitution Unit and other entities responsible for Rural Development, Collective Territory Titling and Rural Property Formalization.

Mercy Corps has been working on property rights, conflict resolution and natural resource management for over 10 years in Colombia and Guatemala with support from USAID and continues to support South-South exchanges to connect public policies and practical actions that address land issues in Latin America.



The information provided on this Web site is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.