This week in Jakarta, Indonesia, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO) will hold a conference on the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System 10 years after the Indian Ocean Tsunami: Achievements, Challenges, Remaining Gaps and Policy Perspectives. This gathering provides an opportunity to discuss the policy and programming challenges related to disaster risk reduction. Weak land governance and insecure land tenure needs to be a part of this important discussion.

One of the keys to building more resilient communities - both pre-disaster and during post-disaster relief, recovery, and reconstruction - is secure land tenure and property rights. Land tenure considerations are often missing from current humanitarian response efforts, as highlighted in the USAID’s recently published Land Tenure & Disasters issue brief. The brief considers experts’ predictions that climate change will make disasters more frequent and more damaging, and recommends changes for both humanitarian response efforts and mitigation through DRR.
Some of the key recommendations include:

  • Recognize a continuum of land tenure arrangements that exist in practice prior to a disaster;
  • Document, register, survey, and protect land records to strengthen the land rights of vulnerable groups including women, youth, migrants, and the poor. This can be done through community-led enumerations/mapping;
  • Support participatory enumeration exercises to document local land tenure practices that give community members “secure enough” tenure. Involve community groups in decisions about designating areas as unsuitable for habitation;
  • To address land claims, consult with the community, relevant customary authorities, and formal land administration agencies and, as needed, support accessible dispute resolution mechanisms;
  • Be aware of to power relations within communities and between communities and government agencies; and
  • Strengthen the technical and managerial capacity of institutions that govern land use and property rights through disaster risk reduction efforts.

For detailed guidance, the issue brief lists existing manuals that show how to address land tenure and property rights challenges in both disaster risk reduction interventions and in post-disaster relief, recovery, and reconstruction.

Download the Land Tenure & Disasters issue brief.


A guest post by Robert Oberndorf, Resource Law Specialist, Tenure and Global Climate Change Project.

Since December of 2013, USAID’s Tenure and Global Climate Change Program has been providing technical assistance to the Government of Burma to develop a draft National Land Use Policy. The policy is intended to address many of the difficulties faced in reforming the governance frameworks related to democratic resource administration and strengthening land tenure security in the country. The policy is also intended to guide the development of a comprehensive umbrella land law for the country, which will help to address some of the challenging legal harmonization issues confronting the country. While improving land use administration and governance in Burma is a complex endeavor, there are promising signs that progress is being made. The development of the draft policy is one such sign.

The Government of Burma has been developing the draft policy using a multi-stakeholder consultation process that began in 2012 with the National Dialogue on Land Tenure and Land Use Rights. The findings from this event fed directly into the draft policy. In addition, advice from non-government technical experts (national and international); extensive research on various land use issues in Burma from academic institutions, donors, INGOs and CSOs; information from media reports; and findings from various Parliamentary commissions on land use issues have fed into the development of the draft National Land Use Policy.

The draft policy, while attempting to balance the interests of multiple stakeholders, emphasizes strengthening the land tenure security of smallholder farmers, ethnic communities, women, and other vulnerable groups in Burma. The policy also includes important provisions on

  • ensuring the use of effective environmental and social safeguard mechanisms,
  • improving public participation in decision-making processes related to land use planning,
  • improving public access to accurate information related to land use management, and
  • developing independent dispute resolution mechanisms.

The draft policy also includes guidance aimed at strengthening the government’s mechanisms for handling land acquisition, compensation, relocation, and restitution.

Considering the fact that Burma has never had a land use policy before, the development of this draft policy is unprecedented on many levels. For example, the Government of Burma has opened the draft policy to a process of public comment and consultation. On October 18, 2014, the Government of Burma held a multi-stakeholder meeting in Yangon to publicly release the draft National Land Use Policy and officially begin a process of nationwide public consultations. The government provided a dedicated e-mail address to send comments. A process for conducting public consultations in every region and state of the country during the month of November was also announced. Once all comments are submitted, they will be assessed for relevance, categorized, and incorporated into the policy through an approach that attempts to balance the views of various stakeholders. A final national workshop will be held to present the revised version of the draft policy prior to final consideration by the Union Government and formal adoption.

To date, reaction to the draft policy has been mixed, with a major concern that the public consultation process does not provide enough time for civil society organizations and the public to fully review and meaningfully comment on the draft. In response to this, the Government initially moved the schedule for the public consultations back one week. It is not clear whether the schedule for consultations might be adjusted further to address the concerns raised by various civil society organizations in the country.

While the public comment and consultation process led by the Government of Burma may be less than perfect, it is nonetheless a watershed moment for Burma that presents a unique opportunity for all stakeholders to make recommendations on an area of policy that directly impacts such a large portion of society in Burma.

Individuals or organizations may submit comments on the draft policy to:

Learn more about land tenure and property rights issues in Burma.


The Global Donor Working Group on Land – a coalition of 23 bilateral and multilateral donors and development agencies committed to improving land governance – welcomes the endorsement of the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems (RAI) by the UN Committee on World Food Security.

USAID, as one of the largest donors in the land and resource governance sector and as the Deputy Chair of the Global Donor Working Group on Land, will work with our partners to support the use of the RAI principles in our efforts to enhance food security and reduce extreme poverty. USAID, along with the U.S. Department of State, Millennium Challenge Corporation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, played an active role in the two-year process of developing and negotiating the RAI because we believe that these principles – and the energy, momentum and partnerships that their endorsement has catalyzed – will make an important contribution to achieving global development goals.

The RAI covers a range of issues – from fostering gender equality to incorporating inclusive and transparent governance structures – that are important to promoting responsible conduct across all types of agricultural investments--public and private, large and small. Crucially, the RAI recognizes the need to respect legitimate tenure rights (Principle 5) as one of the essential ingredients for promoting greater and more sustainable investment in agriculture and food systems.

Read the Global Donor Working Group on Land’s press release welcoming the RAI.

Read more about the RAI from the UN Committee on World Food Security.


Guest commentary by Tiernan Mennen, Director, Land Tenure and Resource Rights Practice, Chemonics International, Inc.

Ms. Adolat Hasanova is a shining example of the success of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative in Tajikistan. Ms. Hasanova is a single mother who—with seven other women-headed families—runs a small farm that produces cotton for export as well as corn, eggplant, watermelon, and other crops for family sustenance. For years Ms. Hasanova was a worker on a large commercial cotton farm, or dekhan farm – an often poorly run vestige from Tajikistan’s collective farm past. As a worker, she was unable to earn enough to support and adequately feed her family; she saw how poorly managed the farm was and knew she could do better.

In 2008 Ms. Hasanova and her friends applied to take their shares from the dekhan farm and start their own family farm. The process, however, was not so easy. Despite clear legal provisions in the Land Code and Dekhan Farm Law that allow farmers to turn their dekhan shares into privately controlled land, the process to do so is unclear and is regularly blocked by authorities and others with vested interests. Ms. Hasanova’s application to the town council was initially denied; however, with the help of USAID-funded legal assistance centers, she was able to appeal the decision and eventually received her land.

Later, after successfully starting the farm, Ms. Hasanova and her group had their access to public irrigation cut off by a powerful local businessman. Again, with assistance from USAID, a legal challenge was filed and won, providing further legal certainty of the group’s rights to their farm.

Despite these past challenges, the ability of the group to protect their legal rights has given them a feeling of security in their ownership that has allowed them to confidently invest in improvements to the farm that have enhanced their yield, improved their families’ nutrition, and increased their income by over five times what they sporadically earned under the commercial farm.

Ms. Hasanova’s story is repeated throughout rural Tajikistan, but not always with the positive ending. Since 2005, over 80,000 farmers have claimed their land rights to start farms, but thousands of farmers remain on commercial farms. Until recently, there have been few mechanisms of legal support when they apply to take their dekhan farm shares or face challenges to their rights.

When more farmers have secure rights to their farms, they can follow Ms. Hasanova’s lead, which will help address problems of poverty and malnutrition. In Tajikistan, 70% of the population lives in rural areas and rural poverty is as high as 49%. Agriculture accounts for 75% of total employment and women represent 70% of its labor force. Despite the predominance of agriculture, 26% of children under five are stunted (low height-for-age) as a result of chronic nutritional deficiency, and 24% of women of reproductive age suffer from anemia. Tajikistan is a Feed the Future priority country despite its fertile soil, extensive irrigation infrastructure, and long agricultural history as an exporter of cotton, apricots, and other cash crops. As with many countries, low agricultural production and food insecurity in Tajikistan is not caused by a lack of agricultural know-how, but by insecure land tenure and the constant threat of eviction for small family farms.

Through the Tajikistan Land Reform and Farm Restructuring Project, USAID is working with the Tajikistan government to extend support to local farmers to increase their rights and food security. Focusing on the FTF-priority Khatlon region in the South, the project supports legal aid centers run by local NGOs to provide legal assistance to farmers to help them secure rights over their land. Through multiple projects, USAID has supported over 30,000 farmers to learn more about their rights, file applications for use, and challenge evictions or land takings in court. Building on this successful work, the project in Khatlon now ensures the sustainability of this approach through pro bono and market-based business models that will harness local resources to provide legal services to small farmers after USAID’s assistance ends. Toward this end, the project is also supporting national policy and legal aid reform efforts by the Government of Tajikistan.

One of the more successful interventions has been the creation of a network of volunteer community-based paralegals by various legal aid centers. This network has allowed the project to extend awareness and services to villages throughout Tajikistan. Empowered by her own experience, Ms. Hasanova now works as a paralegal in her district to support other farmers encountering the same obstacles she once faced and overcame.

Read more about the project profiled in this commentary.


With the endorsement of the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems (RAI) in October, attention turns to how to reflect the principles and practices outlined in the RAI in foreign assistance and public and private investments. The United States’ global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future, already places responsible investment at the core of its programs--including clarifying land rights and maximizing the positive impact of agricultural investments on women, smallholder farmers, and families’ nutritional status.

The 2014 Feed the Future progress report, released in May, highlights projects in several countries in which land rights were incorporated into Feed the Future programming--by strengthening land rights, land governance, and land allocation mechanisms, in order to increase investment in land and rural productivity. Some of these efforts are taking place in Senegal and Burkina Faso, with support from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC); they demonstrate how more secure land tenure can help to increase agricultural investment and improve food security.

Incorporating Land Tenure into Feed the Future Programming

From 2009 through 2014, MCC supported the Government of Burkina Faso’s efforts to develop and implement improved rural land legislation, improve institutional capacity to deliver land services in rural areas, and support site-specific land tenure interventions. The land tenure interventions included participatory land use management planning, formalizing customary land rights, and digitizing existing records. This project helped farmers like Siaka Sanou; before Siaka had an official land possession certificate proving his rights he limited the investments that he made in his land out of fear that someone else would claim it. However, once he received the certificate, with assistance from the U.S. government, he felt secure enough to invest in water pumps for irrigation. Siaka is also renting his land without fear that the renters will claim it. Building on the success of MCC’s work, USAID is now supporting the initial start-up phase of a National Land Observatory (NLO). The NLO aims to strengthen Burkina Faso’s land governance and improve transparency in land transactions to promote greater consistency with the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests.

In Senegal, land rights constituted an important part of an irrigation activity in an agricultural investment and production project. During the project design phase, officials realized that increasing the value of land by adding or improving irrigation infrastructure would likely increase demand for the improved land, thus possibly increasing the risk of land conflict. To minimize this risk, a land tenure intervention was designed as a component of the project. The approach is based on careful identification and accounting for existing land rights – whether formal or informal (i.e., customary) – throughout intervention zones. When local farmers’ existing land and property rights are clarified and formalized, they gain assurance that their rights will be protected. Such assurance is both necessary and appreciated in light of the powerful, large-scale agricultural investment interests that in recent years have periodically made headlines in the Senegal River Valley.

The project in Senegal shows that addressing land tenure security does not always need to be a stand-alone activity, but rather can be woven into the project design of agricultural programs. By highlighting programs that work to strengthen land tenure for rural farmers, the 2014 Feed the Future progress report demonstrates the important supporting role that land rights play in ensuring food security for a growing global population.



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