Roles of land tenure reforms and land markets in the context of population growth and land use intensification in Africa | Land Portal

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Date of publication: 
December 2014
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Land markets are evolving in response to increasing population pressure in Africa.
High population pressure leads to land use intensification on very small farms.
Population growth in densely populated rural areas leads to increasing rural–urban youth migration.
Tenure security enhancing land reforms enhance investments and sustainable land use intensification.
Pro-poor development strategies should target the strengthening of land governance.

This article reviews the past and potential future roles of land tenure reforms and land markets in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) as responses to population growth in the process of land use intensification and livelihood transformation. The farm size distribution and the existence of an inverse relationship (IR) between farm size and land productivity in SSA and the implications of this relationship for efficiency and equity are investigated. More secure property rights and removal of restrictions on land markets have the potential to create both efficiency and equity benefits, but there are high risks of elite capture of large land areas with inefficient and inequitable outcomes. This situation is the case not only in land-abundant areas but also in urban and peri-urban areas where increasingly larger proportions of people will make their living. Increasing population pressure in densely populated rural areas contributes to more rapid rural–urban migration, and creating alternative livelihood opportunities for the migrating youth population is essential to achieving economic development with social stability.

Given the increasing scarcity of land, land tenure security must be established to achieve efficient allocation of land among farm households and to promote investment in land improvement. Endogenous evolution of property rights institutions toward individualized and secure rights has typically been slow, particularly in customary tenure systems (Otsuka and Place, 2001). Old and new power relations in the midst of the new competition for land have created serious threats to large numbers of poor rural households in many African countries. Indeed, the allocation of land to international investors has been more widespread in areas with weak land governance institutions (Deininger and Byerlee, 2011). However, land market transactions, both rentals and sales, have become more active in Africa. Obviously, governments and international organizations need to pay more attention to these land issues in SSA to protect poor and vulnerable people and promote sustainable land management. In fact, the lack of a more comprehensive understanding of the region’s land issues may have caused well-intended land reform law to fail and become subject to “elite capture” at the expense of the poor and vulnerable (Benjaminsen et al., 2009, Holden et al., 2013, Lebert and Rohde, 2007, Deininger and Byerlee, 2011). Deininger and Byerlee (2011) have shown that most of the recent large land acquisitions have taken place in areas with weak tenure systems and where customary tenure rights are not recognized in statutory law.

Authors and Publishers

Author(s), editor(s), contributor(s): 

Holden, Stein T.
Otsuka, Keijiro

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The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa (UNCCD) is a Convention to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought through national action programs that incorporate long-term strategies supported by international cooperation and partnership arrangements.


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