The aim of this paper is to analyse the institutional arrangements for gaining access to land and natural resources in southern Benin. This study analyses these practices in two zones, the Allada region and the coastal zone around the city of Ouidah, each of which has particular conditions of access to land. It considers the link between certain trends (demography, the development of markets, the reduction in cultivable land, technical constraints, etc.) and new institutional arrangements, their impact on agricultural productivity, and how practices affect equity and security of tenure.In the study areas, local rules governing access to and control over land are derived from two types of land tenure system. The first belongs to a system commonly found in communities where village institutions regulate land, religion, lineage and the chieftaincy. Under this system, the strength of lineage rights over land tenure depends on how long the group has been settled in the village. The second, more specific, regime is structured around a system involving “landlords” (who can allocate land to others) and their “clients” (the descendants of former slaves). The land tenure relationships between the descendants of slaves in the hamlets of Dekouenou and large land-holding families with estates around Ouidah fall into this second category. In the first case, we talk about a “community based” system, while the second consists of a land tenure system with its roots in slave-based societies from earlier centuries. Both forms of tenure share the same general principles: the rights of the first occupant are pre-eminent, land and resources are allocated for multiple uses, and there are several levels at which land rights are regulated.
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