Property rights of the Poor
Access to, control and management of natural resources, especially land, is a key determinant of rural livelihoods, income, power and status. Increasing security of tenure for the most vulnerable groups, including the recognition of customary rights, can decrease poverty, vulnerability, food insecurity, and conflicts. Also secure tenure rights provide incentives and opportunities to invest in the sustainable resources management, and reduce the impact of climate change, droughts, disease pandemics, conflicts and global market fluctuations.
Property right systems provide individuals and groups with different bundles of rights, including passage, use, extraction, management, and transfer. Bundles of rights fall along a spectrum that roughly correspond to degrees of power and ultimately define the benefits that different users derive from a particular resource. Rights to exclude and to manage and transfer land are superseded and often conflict with rights of passage and extraction. Property rights are dynamic and define access to different resources located in a single space and to different uses of a single space over time. They derive their authority from multiple sources, such as state law, customary and religious systems.
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We Need to Act Now
There is a need for urgent action because marginal groups, such as indigenous peoples, pastoralists, workers and migrants are especially vulnerable to losing access to land and natural resources, because market-led and legal reform processes governing land acquisition are often biased against them. The legacy of land expropriation, resettlement schemes and land grabbing by both colonial governments and post-independence elites continue to reduce the economic, social and political opportunities of smallholders, landless workers, and the poor.
Many policies, programmes and public services are biased towards sedentary agricultural systems and exclusive, alienable, and legally registered individual land rights. On the contrary, the flexible, diversified, decentralized, and common pool land and resource systems that have historically provided greatest opportunities to the poor, such as pastoralists, are often not recognized as legal rights. Government and multilateral donors have for decades promoted reforms of land tenure systems geared towards formalisation of rights and registration of land titles supported by land markets and investment arguments, but in many cases these policies have not showed the positive expected impact and have not always been pro-poor.
Sustainable agriculture and rural development depend upon policies and legislation that ensure clear, secure, and enforceable rights to land and natural resources for all rural producers. There are essentially two ways to enhance poor’s land rights. One is to protect or increase the security of existing rights. The other is to create new rights or increase the range of rights over which they have control. The comparative advantage of customary tenure systems is its institutional capacity to support existing land rights, while formal systems have the capacity to create new rights.
Policymakers should be aware of the complexity of tenure systems and how legal principles associated with property rights can be subverted when put into practice. To bring about substantial progress, integrated joint action is required of each category of stakeholder noted below, in keeping with their distinct objectives:
Relevant FAO publications
FAO Legal Empowerment of the Poor Working Papers
These Papers, prepared for the regional technical workshop for Sub-Saharan Africa on legal empowerment of the poor, held in October 2006, in Kenya, reflect the country-specific current situation on five main themes: land tenure, forest tenure, fisheries rights, and the cross cutting aspects of SARD, gender and HIV / AIDS impacts on access rights.
Improving tenure security for the poor in Africa, Framework Paper.
Ghana country case study,
Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda case study,
Mali country case study,
Mozambique country case study,
Namibia country case study,
Rwanda country case study.
Synthesis paper:Improving tenure security for the poor in Africa.
Additional recent FAO publications on Women and Children’s Property and Inheritance Rights and Property Rigths in Fisheries Management.
Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor
Hosted by UNDP, the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor is concentrating its efforts to make legal protection and economic opportunity the right of all.
UN-Habitat – Global Land Tool Network (GLTN)
The GLTN is a demand driven network where many individuals and groups have come together to address the global problem of unequal distribution of land, recognizing that the poor have inadequate land resources for their needs, and inadequate security of tenure.
Rights and resources initiative - Supporting forest tenure, policy and market reforms
The Rights and Resources Initiative is a global coalition, supported by the Ford Foundation, DFID, IDRC and SIDA to reduce rural poverty, strengthen forest governance, conserve and restore forest ecosystems, and achieve sustainable, forest-based economic growth.
CGIAR Systemwide Program on Collective Action and Property Rights (CAPRi)
CAPRi is one of several inter-center initiatives of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) created to foster research and promote collaboration on institutional aspects of natural resource management between CGIAR research centers, national agricultural research institutions, and other sources.