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How weak tenure hurts people and undermines rural economies

Photo: ©FAO/Jose Cendon
Weak governance of land tenure leaves poor farmers standing on unfirm ground.
Imagine a family thathas lived on the same small piece of land for several generations. They have title to the land — or at least a title that lists the family's paternal grandfather as owner.

Years later, the original owner's grandson — married, with two small children — grows ill and dies. Unfortunately, his wife's name doesn't appear on the property title. To try to set matters straight, she must travel to the nearest land tenure office -—two days away — leaving her children with friends. Once in the city, red tape means it's another week before she gets in to see the right official. She sleeps on her cousin's floor, worrying about her kids and whether the neighbor's goats have gotten into her vegetable patch.

Finally, she gets her appointment — but the official wants a bribe before making the changes to the title, and she has no money and must go home empty handed. And the goats have eaten her crop.

Or imagine that her dead husband's brother contests her right to the land, and pushes her and her two children out of their home.

Or that the family never had a written title to it at all, but rather informal claims going back over 100 years but not recognized under the law. When a boundary dispute with a neighbor escalates, the widow and her children end up forced off the land.

These are the kinds of problems that have acted as a drag on rural development and perpetuated hunger and poverty in rural areas for millennia, and are among the kinds of core problems the voluntary guidelines aim to address.