This week, more than 1,500 development professionals from around the world are gathering at the World Bank’s annual Land and Poverty Conference, discussing the latest research and innovations in policies and good practice on land governance.
Secure property rights and efficient land registration institutions are a cornerstone of any modern economy. They give confidence to individuals and businesses to invest in land, allow private companies to borrow – using land as a collateral – to expand job opportunities, and enable governments to collect property taxes, which are necessary to finance the provision of infrastructure and services to citizens.
Unfortunately, a mere 30% of the global population has legally registered rights to their land and homes.
Without land tenure systems that work, economies risk missing the foundation for sustainable growth, threatening the livelihoods of the poor and vulnerable the most. It is simply not possible to end poverty and boost shared prosperity without making serious progress on land and property rights.
The international community has recognized thefundamental role(link is external)that land plays in sustainable economic growth by including it in 8 targets and 12 indicatorsof the Sustainable Development Goals. However, to achieve these ambitious goals, policymakers and governments will need to deliberately explicitly move secure land and property rights to the top of the global agenda. Here are seven reasons why:
- Secure land rights are an important pillar for agriculture.
As populations and consumption continue to grow, the global demand for food will continue to increase as well. A multifaceted and comprehensive global strategy is necessary to ensure sustainable and equitable food security. This strategy will need to include interventions to increase agricultural yields through improved security of land rights, research and extension, and more agricultural inputs (such as fertilizers). Research has shown that secure land titles provide incentives for farmers to invest in land, borrow money for agricultural inputs and improvements to their land, and enable land sale and rental markets to ensure full utilization of land.
- Secure land rights are essential for urban development.
In 1950, about two-thirds of the global population lived in rural settlements and one-third in urban settlements. By 2050, we will observe roughly the reverse distribution(link is external)with more than 6 billion people living in urban areas. Most of the increase in urban areas will occur in Africa and Asia.
Failure to clarify land rights and fix distorted land policies contributes to increased property values, making them potentially unaffordable to the urban poor. These gaps have already led to the formation of large informal settlements in many cities around the world.
According to the World Bank report “Africa’s Cities: Opening Doors to the World(link is external),” the top priority for African cities to create more affordable and livable urban environments is to formalize land markets, clarify property rights, and institute effective urban planning.
- Secure property rights help protect the environment.
Research has shown that people are better stewards of the environment and their natural resource base when their property rights are secure. One of the most destructive environmental practices over the last 50 years has been forest degradation.
In the 1950s and 1960s, many countries tried to protect the forest by delineating forest boundaries, but failed to do so because the legal status of these lands was unclear.
To reverse this pattern, governments will need to develop policies that improve tenure security in forest areas – so environmentally sensitive land remains as forest – and allow the transfer land use in non-environmentally-sensitive areas to agriculture or other production.
- Secure property rights and access to land are crucial for private sector development and job creation.
The private sector needs land to build factories, commercial buildings, and residential properties. According to a report that assesses private sector performance in the Middle East and North Africa, the top constraints to the region’s private sector include the lack of access to land as well as issues related to land titling and registration. Companies often use land or property titles as collateral to finance operational costs as well as to expand existing businesses or open news ones,thuscreating more jobs.
- Secure property rights are important for empowering women.
The World Bank Group’s gender strategy(link is external)highlights access to assets as one of the three main pillars for women’s empowerment. Unfortunately, many women around the world continue to be denied land rights(link is external)for multiple reasons: i) the legal framework does not fully support equal access to property ownership or use of land titles as a collateral without a male guardian; ii) men don’t always register their properties in the names of both husband and wife, resulting in women often losing their home or land in the case of a divorce or the death of the husband; and iii) in some cultures, women do not inherit land or properties despite having legal rights to do so – they are often forced by male relatives to waive their rights.
To close the gap between law and practice on women’s land rights, a multi-stakeholder global advocacy campaign called “Stand for Her Land(link is external)” has been launched by the World Bank, Landesa, Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) Partners, UN-Habitat, Habitat for Humanity, the Huairou Commission, and local women and communities worldwide.
- Secure property rights help secure indigenous peoples’ rights.
Many countries do not legally recognize indigenous peoples’ land rights, even though they have lived on their ancestral land(link is external)for many generations, often predating the establishment of the modern state and even the modern recording of rights.
Recognizing indigenous peoples’ land rights is not only a human rights issue, but it also makes economic and environmental sense. Once their land rights are recognized, indigenous peoples will be able to use the resources on their land more sustainably, thus improving their economic and social status as a constructive force in society.
- Secure property rights are vital for keeping peace.
Today, we are witnessing the horrors of war and conflict in many regions around the world. Conflicts force millions of people(link is external)to flee, leaving their properties behind. Without their property rights legally protected at home, displaced people will not be able to go back to their homes and livelihoods. In fact, peace cannot be fully achieved if land and property rights are not well addressed, potentially triggering a second round of conflict.
On a hopeful note, when these conflicts end, secure property rights can become a critical foundation for reconstruction.
With current commitments of approximately $1.5 billion, the World Bank has supported more than 50 countries over the last 25 years to improve land tenure security through policy and legal support, institutional and capacity development, and financing efforts for land titling and digitalizing land registration systems, in addition to analytical products and technical assistance to many countries.
Secure land and property rights are not only at the heart of sustainable development, but they should also be lifted to the top of the global agenda.
The good news is that with modern tools to capture data – such as drone mapping and handheld GPS devices – and disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain, we can do things faster, better, and more cheaply.
Our hope is that by 2030, collectively, we can reverse the ratio of tenure security, and see 70% of the world’s population with secure property rights – benefiting from the support of new technology, continued work on legal and policy frameworks, and increased financing. That would bring us one major step closer to achieving inclusive, resilient, and sustainable communities for all.