- Focus areas of our work
- How we work
- Countries we work in
- Examples and results
- The organisation
Poor people’s right to land is crucial in the struggle against poverty. ActionAid Denmark supports land reforms, advocacy, information, legal aid and land surveying in rural communities.
When poor people lose land
In Nepal, 30,000 debt slaves were set free in the year 2000. They had been toiling for landowners for generations to cover a debt that was impossible to pay off, and which they had often been misled into signing. Their dream is to own their own small plot of land, and to be able to maintain their families. The government had promised to resettle them, but this has only happened for very few, while most of them remain in camps.
In Tanzania, the Maasai people lose ground in the dispute over land when large-scale agriculture and investment initiatives like safari tourism and mining come into the picture. Likewise in the rural areas in Zambia, if a woman is widowed, she will lose her means of subsistence and will have to start her life all over again, as traditional law passes on the land of her husband to her husband’s blood relatives.
Tanzania: Maasai communities gain title deeds to their land
With support from MS, the organisation CORDS helps rural Maasai communities to claim their land rights through surveying, education and communal land certificates.
“We’re often deceived, because we didn’t go to school, and the authorities hide the information”, says Nasielen and Kitimanga from the village Laalala.
Land decisive for the fight against poverty
All these cases are about poor people’s access to land. Landlessness is a prime cause of poverty. Most of the world’s poor live in the countryside, and for them, land is the only way to improve their lot. This is why the land rights of poor people are a key ingredient in fighting poverty.
The problem is that land tends to be unevenly distributed. Small elite groups own the best plots and use bribery and outright theft to expand their land holdings. In many countries, gross historical injustices have been committed, in which population groups have been forcibly removed and deprived of their territories. In addition, foreign investors buy up land for large-scale agriculture, wildlife, tourism and biofuel cultivation while local elites profit from the resale. The situation is further aggravated by corruption, population growth and desertification.
Other problems include ambiguous legislation, for instance, that fails to recognise the collective ownership forms of indigenous peoples. For many of these ethnic groups, the right to land is pivotal to their identity. Consequently, their subsistence, way of life and culture are all at stake when they lose land. And in many places, women are locked in poverty, because they are not permitted to own, inherit or obtain credit to acquire land.
Given these clashes of interest, the work for poor people’s land rights contains plenty of scope for explosive conflict that may, at the very worst, unleash a civil war. However, at the same time, experiences show that when poor people’s land right are secured, it can reduce poverty and boost the economy by spurring productivity and investment. For the poor to dare invest in cultivating the land, they need to be certain that they have the right to it. In this manner, more democratic access to land may pave the way for greater productivity and progress.
How MS supports poor people’s land rights
MS works with a specific focus on land rights in Tanzania, Nepal and Zambia. We support information and awareness-raising about poor people’s rights and land-titling procedures. We assist efforts to compile information, formulate policy, and carry out advocacy, when this is required to reform land legislation. We also back endeavours to ensure reliable and honest institutions in charge of administering the land.
This takes place in various ways, depending on the conditions at hand. In some countries, we support land reforms aimed at distributing the land more fairly. Elsewhere, we back new land legislation that entitles women to inherit and own land, or gives nomadic pastoralists the right to collective ownership of their traditional land. And in other places, we assist in work to survey and register land, getting the authorities to issue land titles.
In Nepal and Zambia, we support civil society’s struggle for land reform. In Nepal, we work to influence land reforms through the umbrella organisation CSRC, which has been tasked with developing a pilot reform project in four districts. We help former debt slaves through their own organisations to obtain ID cards and land titles, and we assist subsistence farmers in acquiring legal titles to their land. In Zambia, we seek to influence a new constitution and imminent land reforms through “Zambia Land Alliance”, so that women gain equal rights, and so that the new ownership regime also prevails in areas ruled by customary law. Furthermore, we support more democratic local administration of land legislation through ‘District Farmers’ Associations’.
In Tanzania, where the law, at least on paper, pursues the goal of fair access to land for the poor, we back the participation of civil society and community work to survey, distribute and entitle land, and thereafter the issuing of individual or collective title deeds. Our support consists of information, awareness-raising and legal aid, helping to monitor the authorities’ administration of the law.
Learn moreLand Rights Thematic Programme Concept Paper Draft (pdf)