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About Landesa

Landesa partners with governments and local organizations to ensure that the world’s poorest families have secure rights over the land they till. Founded as the Rural Development Institute, Landesa has helped more than 105 million poor families gain legal control over their land since 1967. When families have secure rights to land, they can invest in their land to sustainably increase their harvests and reap the benefits—improved nutrition, health, and education—for generations.

Civil Society Organization

Rights and Rice Foundation (RRF) is a Liberian non-governmental organization registered with the overall aim of working for social justice and community empowerment.  Since 2007 RRF has implemented several programs and projects supported by donors and funding agencies like UN Women, UNDP, USAID, GIZ and Welthungerhilfe. Today RRF works around three key thematic pillars, namely: political and economic governance, community empowerment and conflict mediation. RRF now implements seven programs in 10 of Liberia’s 15 counties.

Civil Society Organization

To achieve our Goal, we are campaigning for an unprecedented mobilization of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, governments, intergovernmental organizations, corporate and other private sector actors, civil society, social movements, and citizens from all over the world. To realise the change we want, we ask that by 2020…

Non Governmental organization

Our Vision

Our vision is a just world without poverty. We want a world where people are valued and treated equally, enjoy their rights as full citizens, and can influence decisions affecting their lives.

Our Purpose

Our purpose is to help create lasting solutions to the injustice of poverty. We are part of a global movement for change, empowering people to create a future that is secure, just, and free from poverty.

The Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), Landesa, and the Land Portal Foundation are co-facilitating an online discussion on Liberia's Land Rights Bill (LRB) that may soon be voted on by the Liberian National Legislature. This discussion is also supported by Rights & Rice Foundation, Habitat for Humanity International, Oxfam, and the Land Rights Now campaign.

Background

Liberia has not yet enacted a comprehensive land law. According to existing laws, all lands not previously deeded to a private party are classified as Public Land. Since the end of  civil war, Liberia's struggle to enact a land law, coupled with its weak land and natural resources management systems, contributed to tenure insecurity and an increased rate of large-scale land concessions to private investors.

In an attempt to address this issue, the Liberian government started a land reform process in 2009 with the establishment of a Land Commission. In May of 2013, the Land Commission presented a draft Land Rights Policy (LRP) to the President. This draft was officially adopted by a diverse group of Liberians, including government officials, traditional chiefs, community members, and civil society organizations. Following the validation of the Land Rights Policy in 2013, the Land Commission drafted a Land Rights Bill designed to provide a legal framework to implement the LRP. A key provision in the LRB defines four main categories of tenure in Liberia: Private Land, Customary Land, Government Land and Public Land. This provision has strong implications for the millions of rural Liberians who currently do not have formalized land rights. 

Since 2013, the Legislature has conducted multiple private and public consultations and public hearings. These interventions resulted in significant changes to the LRB. In 2017, a version of the Bill was passed by the House of Representatives. However, according to Liberian Civil Society, the version passed by the House is a dramatic departure from the LRP and significantly waters down provisions designed to protect customary land rights. Many civil society organizations in Liberia are working tirelessly to ensure the LRB is revised so as to safeguard customary land rights. At the international level, the Land Rights Now campaign recently published an issue brief with several recommendations for reforming the LRB.

The overall objectives of this online discussion are to:
 
  1. To meaningfully contribute to the discussion around the LRB and on-going land reform process in Liberia
  2. To share relevant information that supports the passage of a version of the LRB that will safeguard the land rights of rural Liberians.

Findings from the discussion can contribute to the development of an adequate regulatory framework for safeguarding communities, groups, and individuals with customary tenure rights. The discussion will focus on the following questions:

 

1. Recognition of Customary Land Rights for All: What do you think about the entitlement of one acre in fee simple (deeded land in customary residential areas) for each member of a community? Should customary land be sold?

2. Issues with Tribal Certificate: How should the law deal with Tribal Certificate in Customary Land?

3. Protecting women and minority land rights in Customary Land Tenure: How should the law protect women, minority and vulnerable people in customary land tenure systems?

4. Protected Areas: How should the government reconcile the issue of customary land rights in protected areas?

5. Existing Concessions and other land grants:  With a large land area in the country (mostly Customary Land) already granted through concessions, what should be the role of communities in the renegotiation of concessions?

Please join the discussion from July 18- August 8 by registering as a Land Portal user and submitting a comment. Stay tuned for more details!

Comments

Liberia is at a cross-road. The Land Rights Bill (LRB) that was developed through a consultative process and hailed by international partners is still lingering in the corridors of the National Legislature. What is even more concerning is the modifications that have been done on the original version of the LRB that was developed in 2014. Civil society and pressure groups are now asking the administration of President Weah to “score a goal” or pass a land rights bill that will be in the interest of rural Liberians. As the Liberian people and international partners are asking the Liberian Government to make this historic decision by giving full land rights to rural Liberians, we have dedicated July 18 to August 8, 2018 to discuss contentious issues in the LRB. We are asking people to respond to the weekly discussion questions that will be posted. We welcome your comments. 

I would like to share my exeperience with Land Policy formulation in Zambia. One Tribal Chief advised that 'you cannot milk a cow that you have sold'. In short, he is for leasing customary land and returning the proceeds to the community. In this respect, he has presided over an increasingly self reliant social system that is able to run 'free education' community schools and provide other public services to the people in his area. I think that Liberia would benefit from this model.

 

The 2018 election of President George Weah was a watershed moment for Liberia, marking the first peaceful, democratic transition of power in five decades. Mr. Weah’s ascension from global football star to the presidency is the latest sign that Liberia is emerging from its turbulent past toward a more prosperous future for all of its people.

President Weah has rightly prioritized the need for Liberia to pass comprehensive land reform, making rural land rights a theme of his inaugural address to the nation in January of 2018. With debate over the country’s Land Rights Bill entering its fifth year, the opportunity to reform its land laws and safeguard the rights of rural communities is already before Liberia’s government. What’s important now is that the legislature passes a version of the bill that provides full rights to land for all Liberians, including women, minority groups, and those living on customary land.

As CEO of Landesa, I thank you for your contribution to this discussion, and look forward to seeing the expert advice and recommendations that emerge.

With about 40 percent of West Africa’s remaining Upper Guinea rainforests, Liberia is at the front end of the climate change debate. At the same time, the country has valuable mineral resources like iron old and gold, attracting several multi-national mining companies. In addition, the country dense forest resources and relatively low population makes the land space a promising location for logging and agro-plantation concessions. In fact, these land use activities – mining, logging and agro-plantation concessions – have dominated land policy framework and laws, resulting to over 30% of the country’s land space contracted to foreign investors. Meanwhile, the land rights of ordinary Liberian, especially rural communities, remained a low priority for past governments. The challenge is, Liberia has yet to pass a comprehensive land policy and land law. According to existing laws, all lands not previously deeded to a private party are classified as Public Land (PL). However, since 2006 the Government of Liberia (GOL) has passed a significant body of land reform legislation that seeks to protect the land claims of ordinary Liberian citizens, in particular rural populations. The National Forestry Reform Law of 2006 (NFRL) and Community Rights Law of 2009 grant paperless communities the right to manage their own communal forest land and resources. The draft Land Rights Bill (LRB) of 2014 promises communities the opportunity to own, occupy, and use their customary land and its resources, and includes a key provision that allows communities to benefit from income-generating activities on their land, such as farming, logging, mining, conservation and tourism. Despite numerous efforts to pass the Land Rights Bill, the Bill has not yet passed and remains in the corridors of the Legislature since 2014. There are still points of contention related to the provisions and articles in the customary land rights category of the LRB. To this end, the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), Landesa, the Land Portal Foundation, Rights & Rice Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, and the Land Rights invite you to participate in a discussion on the LRB that is before the Liberian Legislature. The discussions will bring together the perspectives of researchers, particularly those associated with land reforms in developing countries, international organizations, government officials, elders, practitioners and local Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) on the Bill. It will also focus on the different arguments and viewpoints that have shaped the current version of the LRB. We invite you to join the discussion. The discussion starts on Wednesday, July 18 and ends on August 8th 2018.

Article 39 of the draft Land Rights Act states -

1. Residential Area shall include all Land on which a resident resides.

2. A resident irrespective of gender, shall be entitled to a Residential Area for
his or her exclusive possession and use as a residence provided that no
more than one (1) acre of land shall be granted to a Resident.

3. Every Residential Area shall have the same legal status as Private Land
and a Resident shall be entitled to hold and keep his or her Residential
Area in perpetuity.

1. Given that residential plots do not include agricultural parcels (provided for
separately in the law), a parcel of ‘no more of a quarter of an acre’ is more
appropriate. Bear in mind that each generation will see expansion.

2. The right to exclusive possession already customarily exists, and the right to sell the
house is justified. Whether sale should include the land on which the house-plot sits,
is another matter.

3. On sale and speculation: as currently drafted, the risk is high of every adult acquiring
a parcel to sell on, then demanding allocation of a new plot – possibly to sell on
again. Already by giving each adult, rather than a family, the right to her/his own
house-plot, the Residential Area will double in size – in this generation alone. Loss of
farmland and forestland in the community area will be dramatic.

I suggest the following be added to Article 39:

Each adult member of the community is entitled to allocation of only one
quarter-acre residential parcel or less, should the Community Land
Development and Management Committee determine that in light of
population growth and future generation needs that the area cannot sustain
expansion of plots.

Every sale must be approved by a full meeting of the Community Land
Development and Management Committee and priority given to existing
adult community members who possess no residential plot of their own.

Proposed expansion and parcel allocation of Residential Areas is subject to
community approval in accordance with Article 36, and must be balanced
with consideration of present and future community requirements for farm
and forest lands.

4. On root title to house plot lands/Residential Areas:

An exclusive, private usufruct, held in perpetuity, able to be bequeathed or gifted, or
sold, is fully viable, without this necessarily involving the absolute sale of the land
itself. The owner of the usufruct is fully protected.

It is not clear in Article 39 if root title to the land remains with the community in
common or is sold absolutely. Articles 32 (1) and 33(1) imply that the land remains
common property and it is the exclusive right to residential parcels that is exclusive
and saleable.

If this is not the case, legislators could carefully consider how far it is necessary for
these private parcels to include the land itself, which, in customary and collectively
managed circumstances, is preferably retained by the community in common.

From the parable of milking a cow, Choolwe is encouraging us not to sell customary land. Instead, we should encourage leasing and perhaps in the words of Liberian historian, Dr. Joseph Guannu, leasing land “for an indefinite period”.  Yes, Choolwe says, if the cow is there, you can always milk it but if you sell the animal, your production of milk might end. Does Choolwe have a point here? Forbade any sale of customary land?

 

What do you make of Liz's recommendation restricting residential land to only one
quarter-acre or less, should the Community Land Development and Management Committee (CLDMC) determine that in light of population growth and future generation needs that the area cannot sustain expansion of plots? How will this determination of population growth and future generation needs be made? Does the CLDMC have the capacity to perform such calculation?

Liz, when you suggested that “Every sale must be approved by a full meeting of the Community Land Development and Management Committee and priority given to existing adult community members who possess no residential plot of their own”, are you talking about selling residential land to outsiders who are not Members of the Community? Or are you talking about the division of residential plots to Community Members? The bill says no Members of a Community should be deprived of residential land.

 

Keep your comments coming in.

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