Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page



the ability to use land and other natural resources (e.g., use rights for grazing, growing subsistence crops, gathering minor forestry products, etc.), to control the resources (e.g., control rights for making decisions on how the resources should be used, and for benefiting financially from the sale of crops, etc.), and to transfer rights to the land to take advantage of other opportunities (e.g., transfer rights for selling the land or using it as collateral for loans, conveying the land through intra-communal reallocations, transmitting the land to heirs through inheritance, etc.)


the process of authoritatively determining the existing rights and claims of people to land. Adjudication should not alter existing rights or create new ones but instead should establish what rights exist, by whom they are exercised, and to what limitation.

Adverse possession

gaining access to land by acquiring legal rights through possession for a prescribed period of time.

Agrarian structure

the structure of farming units in a society, including the pattern of land distribution among rural landholders. Reforms are often promoted in countries which have an agrarian structure of very large farming units operating with a labour force of landless or land poor peasants and very small family-operated farms. Examples of these are the “latifundia” and “minifundia” of Latin America.


to alienate land is to transfer rights to that land to another person. Alienation can be full (e.g., the sale of ownership of that land) or partial (e.g., the transfer of use rights through a lease).


the process of assigning rights to land to a person (individual or corporate) within the rules defined by the land tenure system. Rights can be assigned by the sovereign power (nation state or indigenous) through original grants or through reallocations following expropriation, purchase, or reversion. Rights can also be allocated by private persons to others through sales, leases, inheritance, etc.

Bundle of rights

the analogy that the collection of rights associated with a land parcel can be likened to a bundle of sticks: very often separate “sticks” of the bundle are held by different people; “sticks” can be acquired in different ways and held for different periods.


a parcel-based land information system that includes a geometric description of land parcels, usually represented on a cadastral map. In some jurisdictions it is considered separate from, but linked to, the register of land rights and holders of those rights (land register), while in other jurisdictions the cadastre and land register are fully integrated.

Common property

rights held by members of a community to land and other natural resources (e.g., pastures) that members can use independently of one another. The community controls the use of the common pool resources and can exclude non-members from using it.

Control rights

a right to control the management of the property. It may include rights to make decisions about how the land should be used including what crops should be planted, and to benefit financially from the sale of crops, etc.

Customary tenure

the tenure usually associated with indigenous communities and administered in accordance with their customs as opposed to statutory tenure usually introduced during the colonial periods. However, some countries in Africa are giving legal status to customary tenure. It often includes communal rights to pastures and exclusive private rights to agricultural and residential parcels.

De facto rights

rights that exist in reality or “on the ground”. They may be different from de jure rights.

De jure rights

rights that exist because of formal law, which may be different from de facto rights.

Eminent domain

the expression identifying the state’s position as having ultimate, sovereign power over the land. The term is used in some jurisdictions to describe the power held by the state to acquire land by expropriation or compulsory acquisition.


the illegal occupation or use of portion of the land holdings of another.


an externality is an outcome outside the desired outcome resulting from an intervention. In the context of the introduction of a new land registration system, for example, an externality resulting from a particular approach adopted may be that certain types of informal rights are not capable of registration, and are therefore jeopardised.

Formal property

rights that are explicitly acknowledged by the state and which may be protected using legal means.


the everyday expression for what is usually regarded as “ownership” providing the holder with use rights, control rights, and transfer rights and otherwise enjoyment of the land parcel to the extent permitted by law. The term derives from a particular type of tenure found under English common law, i.e. the land holder was free from the obligation of providing feudal services.

Indigenous tenure system

tenure system of local origin, see customary tenure.

Informal property

rights that lack formal, official recognition and protection. In some cases, informal property rights are illegal, i.e., held in direct violation of the law. In other cases, informal property may be “extra-legal”, i.e., not against the law, but not recognised by the law.


the right to transfer property to one’s heirs. In many societies, property descends to males, and females have no or little right to inherit. In some societies, tenure rules may provide for females to inherit but, in practice, daughters are expected to give up this right on the basis that they will, upon marriage, gain access to the lands of their husbands. In matrilineal societies, upon the death of the wife, property descends through the line of the matrilineal uncle, and the surviving husband may lose rights previously enjoyed. In patrilineal societies, the widow may lose rights and be evicted.

Land administration

the set of systems and processes for making land tenure rules operational. It includes the administration of land rights, land use regulations, and land valuation and taxation. Land administration may be carried out by agencies of the formal state, or informally through customary leaders.

Land dispute

a disagreement over land rights, boundaries or uses. A land dispute occurs where specific individual or collective interests relating to land are in conflict.

Land information system (LIS)

a system for acquiring, managing, processing, storing and distributing information about land. It is usually parcel-based.

Land reform

the redistribution of land to the rural poor for equity and agricultural efficiency purposes.

Land registration

the recording of rights to land in some form of public register. It includes information on the rights, their location, and their holders. Registration can be parcel-oriented (sometimes referred to as title registration) or based on the holders or transfer documents (sometime referred to as deed registration). In title registration, ownership is transferred upon registration rather than on execution of the contract; the state may also provide a guarantee on the validity of the title.

Land rights

rights held to land and other natural resources. More than one person may hold rights to a parcel of land which gives rise to the concept of a “bundle of rights”.

Land tenure

the relationship, whether legally or customarily defined, among people, as individuals or groups, with respect to land and associated natural resources (water, trees, minerals, wildlife, etc.). Rules of tenure define how property rights in land are to be allocated within societies. Land tenure systems determine who can use what resources for how long, and under what conditions.

Land tenure reform

changes to the rules of tenure. It can include the legal recognition of customary tenure rights, strengthening the rights of tenants, etc.


the contractual agreement (which may be formal or informal) for the temporary use of land.

Negotiated land reform

reforms that use the land market as a vehicle for redistributing land, but in which the state plays an important role in providing funds (e.g., through grants and/or loans) for poor farmers to purchase land.

Open access

tenure where there is no control on access to resources: specific rights are not assigned to anyone and no-one can be excluded. It may include rangelands, forests, etc, where there is free access to the resources for all.


the rights to land that are, in everyday language, associated with the ability to use, control, transfer, or otherwise enjoy a land parcel as long as those activities are allowed by law. In statutory tenure it is often associated with freehold. However, land law does not tend to define explicitly what is meant by “ownership”.


a portion of land for which distinct rights exist.

Possession/possessory rights

the rights that accrue, in everyday language, from physically occupying a land parcel. A legal owner does not have to possess the land to be the owner; the person possessing it may have a legal claim or none at all. Legal recognition of possessory rights vary around the world; in some cases, possession can give rise to ownership claims through adverse possession.

Private property

rights held a private party who may be an individual person, a married couple, a group of people, or a corporate body such as a commercial entity or non-profit organization.


the process of bringing informal property rights into a formal, legal system of land administration. It usually includes the steps of adjudication, titling and land registration.


the process used by some states to recover property from a holder for reasons such as the failure to pay property taxes or to use rural land for agricultural purposes within a stipulated time. Such property may be allocated to new parties by the state. It is also used to describe a lessor’s interest in the land after the term of a lease has expired.


a tenure where a land owner allows a person (“share cropper”) to use the land in return for a share of the crop produced on the land.

Slash and burn

an example of a sequential system of shifting cultivation where an area of forest is cleared by burning to allow the ash to enrich nutrient-poor soils. Cropping may then take place on the cleared land for two or three cycles, subsequently letting the forest lie fallow for 15-30 years until the cycle is restarted. Societies that use this technique may have traditional access to large areas of forested land to support them in a sustainable manner.

State property

rights held by the state, often by assignment to a public agency.

Tenure security

the certainty that a person’s rights to land will be protected. People with insecure tenure face the risk that their rights to land will be threatened by competing claims, and even lost as a result of eviction. The attributes of security of tenure may change from context to context: investments that require a long time before benefits are realized require secure tenure for a commensurately long time.


the evidence of a person’s right to land, or “entitlement”.

Use right, usufruct

the right to use the land. A holder of a use right may not have the right to sell the property, etc.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page