Issues With Land Governance Hinder Sustainable Development Efforts

Comprehensive results of a survey on land governance in Africa conducted by the PPARD working group

Photo by Erik Velzing, Namibia, copyright GIZ

Secure land and tenure rights are important framework conditions for more sustainable development efforts of African partner countries. Yet, they are often addressed insufficiently in technical cooperation.

To get an idea of the extent to which land-related development in GIZ-implemented projects in Africa is affected, the global projects Strengthening Capacities on Land Governance in Africa (SLGA) and Responsible Land Policy as well as the SNRD Africa working group Policy Processes in Agricultural and Rural Development (PPARD) conducted a stocktaking survey of the current recognition and relevance of land rights and land governance in programs implemented by GIZ in Africa.

The study has come to the conclusion that unclear land rights constitute a main stumbling block for many GIZ projects, having prevented them to reach their full potential. This reiterates findings of a meta-evaluation of rural development programs implemented by GIZ in 2015 (Querschnittsanalyse Ländliche Entwicklung 2015).

Responses to individual questions asked

Land governance issues a challenge for GIZ projects in Africa

Based on an online survey with follow-up interviews conducted between November 2017 and February 2018 with a total of 50 respondents from 48 projects in 23 countries, the study:

  • Assessed the importance of land policy in country contexts where GIZ projects are active and the extent to which these programs address land policy and tenure issues
  • Analyzed in how far GIZ projects could strategically incorporate land governance into their project design and implementation
  • Recommends support measures GIZ projects need for their specific work environment

The most widespread challenges related to land tenure and land governance mentioned by respondents are:

  • Insecure tenure rights
  • Lacking formalization of traditional land rights
  • Lacking transparency and accountability of traditional leaders and authorities
  • Corruption and generally poor governance or no rule of law.
  • Ineffective government institutions and lack of qualified staff in government institutions.

Considered action

One effective way for German development cooperation to become more active in these areas might be to offer strong technical and innovative solutions for land administration while simultaneously strengthening policy frameworks.

More than half of the respondents consider initiating or expanding activities related to land governance in their project. Of these responses, the most prominent actions mentioned are:

  • To provide specific support to disadvantaged groups such as women, youth, other vulnerable groups
  • To address land use planning and zoning, land demarcation, adjudication, registration, and cadaster
  • Supporting the development of policy, legal and organizational frameworks related to tenure

“Good land policies and management are key to achieving agricultural transformation. We need to work towards what has been recognized as a fundamental right for all people all over the world: equitable land access for all land users and improved access and security of land tenure, particularly for women. With regard to our work, this requires a stronger collaboration and interaction between our land management and governance projects and projects in the area of agricultural and rural development.”  (Marc Nolting, Head of the „Strengthening Capacities for Land Governance Programme“ which funded the study)

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Based on the study’s recommendations, the PPARD working group will develop follow-up activities to support land governance mainstreaming in GIZ projects in Africa and beyond.

As a first step, the working group will organize a land governance learning event combined with a training session in October 2018 in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, for interested GIZ staff working in programmes where land is a cross-cutting issue and for partners from government and the private sector.

Where do the findings lead to?

Dr Thomas Breuer, the speaker of the PPARD working group, sees a clear message that could be drawn from the study as well as from the entire discussion around land in Africa:

  • In Thomas’ view, the study demonstrates that sustainable access to land is a prerequisite for sustainable development in many areas: what would sustainable reforestation look like if land rights remained unclear and insecure? How will the protection of national parks be achieved without clear land tenure? How could agriculture be modernised if young farmers won’t get access to land — since these are the ones driving investment  — and if they have access to land, can’t use it as collateral to obtain investment loans due to insecure tenure and land use rights?
  • Land governance is technically very relevant for sustainable development in rural as well as urban areas. However, due to its political sensitivity, it gets left aside too often. But without an orderly market for land many efforts in the areas of agricultural development, protection of natural resources and urban development are doomed to remain unsustainable.
  • The spectrum of how and where land constitutes a central prerequisite for sustainable development had not really been clear so far. The study showed there was great interest by many players to work on solutions.
  • German development cooperation could offer strong technical and innovative solutions for land administration while simultaneously touching on policy-related issues.
  • Access to land makes a decisive difference when promoting young entrepreneurs. Without clear rules and proper land tenure administration, there won’t be a basis for what many parties demanded to happen in Africa right now: Creating jobs to get Africa’s economic development on track for the future.

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Dr Thomas Breuer ( and Luisa Prior (