Steven Lawry – The Impact of Land Property Rights Interventions

Speaker: Steven Lawry, Research Director, Forests & Governance, CIFOR.

Date: 27 January 2015

Location: CIFOR Headquarters, Bogor, Indonesia.

Secure and predictable access to land as a productive resource is key to the livelihoods of millions of farmers around the world. Existing evidence on the effects of land property rights interventions is mixed and to a considerable degree dependent upon the initial land rights conditions. We conduct a systematic review of current quantitative and qualitative evidence on the effects of land property rights interventions. The quantitative results are based on a corpus of 20 studies. Studies on freehold titling provide evidence mostly consistent with conventional economic theories of property rights: land tenure interventions substantially improve productivity and consumption expenditure or income, with long-term investment and increases in perceived tenure security as plausible mechanisms (a credit-collateral channel finds no support). The quantitative evidence base has very little to say about consequences of such policies for social outcomes like displacement, conflict, or gender equality. Thus, while tenure recognition appears to improve land productivity and the material welfare of those who have access to registered land, we do not have a clear sense of the dynamics that follow from such policies in terms of overall access to land. We also have no quantitative evidence on policies that certify communal property rights, one of the forms of property rights enhancement that motivated our interest in this review. The qualitative side of the review analyzed nine studies that catalogued a broad spectrum of both positive and negative experiences with land tenure interventions, confirming that social impacts can be significant, unpredictable and in some instances negative, such as displacement or diminished property rights for women. The study results draw attention particularly to the significant gains in productivity and investment in agriculture in the Latin American and Asian cases due to tenure formalization, and the comparatively weak productivity effects attributable to formalization in Africa. This may be explained by the fact that most farms in sub-Saharan Africa are held under customary tenure arrangements, which generally provide long-term tenure security to qualified members of land-holding families, groups or communities. Hence, tenure insecurity may not have been the constraining factor it was presumed to be prior to formalization. Modest productivity gains in Africa may also be explained by lower levels of wealth and income of African farming families and lower levels of public investment in rural infrastructure. Understanding the relevance and the relative weight of each of these effects merits further research.

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