Land policy: a crucial aspect of territorial development and governance

Land policy can be defined as the relationships between people as regards land access and control. That makes it central to economic, political, social and environmental issues. Because they determine the means of managing and governing such relationships, land policies play a central role in the development and governance strategies of territories.

The issue of land is central to public policy on regional planning, growth and reducing poverty and inequality, in both rural and urban areas. Land is at the heart of many key issues. For farmers and their families, land is the primary means of subsistence and the primary vehicle for investment, accumulation of wealth and transfer of wealth between generations. On a broader scale, land also plays a key role in the economic development of agricultural production, management of natural resources, and support for local development, whether rural or urban. Consequently, the issue of land tenure concerns all the stakeholders involved, from local farmers to national or foreign investors, from local governments to public service providers.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs supports the development of transparent, joint land governance, based on multi-stakeholder dialogue. The aim is to promote land tenure systems that respect the variety of rights and sources of legitimacy, in order to foster equitable and sustainable development. These policies seek to strike a balance between the rights and responsibilities of the various stakeholders and to take into account historical practices and changing local rights, as part of a long-term vision.

Having recognized the importance of these land processes, in 1996 France set up the Land Tenure and Development Technical Committee (CTFD), bringing together researchers, civil society and professionals, in order to monitor and analyse land issues in developing countries. This Committee, which is co-chaired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Agence française de développement (AFD), has guided French development policy to ensure that the complexities of land governance are addressed more effectively. It is a unique body which puts research findings into practice through projects on the ground and public land policies. Under the aegis of this Committee, several surveys and studies have been done of bodies involved in this field. A web portal, jointly managed by several partners, provides information on a large number of countries where land is a particularly pressing issue, as well as newsletters and factsheets on various themes.

In this context, in 2009 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was closely involved in writing the white paper on “Land Governance and Security of Tenure in Developing Countries”, which has been available online since June2010, as well as a French position paper on “Large-scale land appropriations –Analysis of the phenomenon and proposed guidelines for future action” (2010).

More recently, the “Land Tenure and Development” Technical Committee finalized two study areas on “transparency and contract negotiation” and “formalization of land rights”, following on from the White Paper recommendations. The completion of that work led to the publication of two major documents, which are available online from the web portal:

  • A “Guide to due diligence of agribusiness projects that affect land and property rights”, the conclusions of which are currently being incorporated into the social and environmental impact assessment procedures for AFD projects.
  • A report on “Formalising land rights in developing countries – moving from past controversies to future strategies”, prefaced by the Minister of State for Development and Francophonie (report available online in French and English).

France’s action in the field of land governance

France’s approach is based on a number of principles, including compliance with and acknowledgment of the various land laws, adaptation of actions to socio-economic contexts, supporting political choices without interfering while fostering inclusive approaches, and coordination with other donors. In 2010, on the basis of an analysis by the CTFD in partnership with the Interministerial Group on Food Security (GISA), France drew up a position paper on its aim to strengthen global land governance. This discussion sought, in particular, to offer appropriate solutions to the problem of large-scale acquisition of farmland, sometimes known as land-grabbing.

At an international level, after an inclusive negotiation process supported by France, Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security were adopted by the Committee on World Food Security on 11May2012, on the basis of widespread consensus among state representatives, NGOs, private sector representatives and international organizations.

This was a real achievement. The Guidelines serve as a shared reference framework to promote land regimes that offer more secure and equitable access to land. They encourage states to draw up their own strategies, policies and projects concerning management of land and natural resources. They particularly emphasize the need to take into account the legitimate rights of local people and suggest providing additional safeguards (parliamentary approval, ceilings on permissible land transactions, etc.) in the event of large-scale land acquisition.

These Guidelines for responsible land governance are implemented at national level. France helps countries that request support, such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Madagascar, Mali and Senegal, to implement a land policy that complies with the Voluntary Guidelines. That support includes workshops to foster the dissemination of the guidelines in the various countries and longer term support for land policy reform. These public policies should reconcile the need to support agricultural investments, ensure food security and protect the rights of land users. Securing tenure should ensure that transactions are transparent and economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. Measures for recognition of land rights should be inexpensive and long-term, so as to build a balanced relationship between all the stakeholders and ensure that the benefits are shared fairly among the parties concerned. With this in mind, France undertakes not only to refuse to support projects that go against the principles promoted in the Voluntary Guidelines, but also to actively implement these principles in projects run by French stakeholders, in particular by supporting a project to strengthen land governance and enhance transparency of land transactions in partnership with the African Land Policy Initiative, via the Priority Solidarity Fund (PSF). This promotion of transparency also involves active support for several land governance observatories at national level (Madagascar, Cameroon).

A concrete example: France’s support for the Land Reform Coordination Unit in Madagascar (underway since 2006)

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs supports Madagascar’s Land Reform Coordination Unit through technical assistance. The aim is to meet local demand for secure land tenure by formalizing non-written land rights and regularizing written land rights. This involves taking local practices into consideration, by seeking alternative land tenure solutions.

This programme supports a major legal innovation. It confers greater responsibility on districts by setting up municipal offices issuing certificates of land rights which are accepted at local level. It also seeks to achieve a form of land governance that is conducive to private investment, agricultural production, and the management, protection and renewal of natural resources.

This land reform is underpinned by training and communication initiatives throughout the territory, aimed not only at elected representatives, officials and land registry offices, but also at all local stakeholders and citizens.

Updated: 24.04.15