News / Africa

    Lack of Land Rights Could Lead to Land Rush

    Community leaders in Nimba Point in Grand Cape Mount, Liberia, take Alfred Brownell (center) of Green Advocates, a member of the Rights and Resources Initiative, on a tour of land that had been cleared by Sime Darby, a Malaysia-based company.
    Community leaders in Nimba Point in Grand Cape Mount, Liberia, take Alfred Brownell (center) of Green Advocates, a member of the Rights and Resources Initiative, on a tour of land that had been cleared by Sime Darby, a Malaysia-based company.
    Joe DeCapua

    New studies suggest that weak land rights are fueling a land rush in Africa and elsewhere. The findings say the sell-off of forests and other prime lands to developers could trigger widespread civil unrest.

    The Rights and Resources Initiative says national leaders and investors must recognize the customary rights of poor people, who have lived or worked on these lands for centuries.

    “The amount of land that is owned by customary communities around the world is about 3 billion hectares of land. And just to give you a sense, in sub-Saharan Africa, about 1.4 billion hectares of the land is not legally recognized to be owned by customary communities and under customary tenure rights systems,” said Jeffrey Hatcher, director of the initiative’s global programs.

    Customary law

    Customary law, he said, has long been a part of local communities, even if it’s not contained in law books.

    “These are just the traditional rules and obligations that regulate ownership of land in a lot of the developing world. It’s basically a system of rules and laws that are known as customary laws because they’re not written down in code and they’re not in statutes, basically. Customary law in the U.K. or in the United States is basically the basis of our legal system. And in Africa, the law of communities has as much weight to them as our customary law has to us,” he said.

    Hatcher said the land desired by developers is where indigenous people live, farm, make their living, find material to build houses or where water resources are located. He said that “controversial land acquisitions have been a key factor in triggering civil wars.”

    Conflict

    “One good example,” he said, “is in Sudan, where in the 80s and the 90s large-scale land acquisitions for plantations were purchased by individual investors from Khartoum and were part of the main grievances that the south had against the north in Sudan. Part of this, I guess, the trigger for civil war in that case. But you see in other places, like in Liberia, companies coming in to an area to grow oil palm plantations and the communities have really no understanding that their rights to land had been given away to a company.”

    That can result in conflict between companies and communities and between communities and governments.

    “Some investors are caught off guard by this because they think they’ve actually purchased the rights by dealing directly with the government. And they haven’t realized that the government hasn’t sorted out land rights in the area where they’re going,” he said.

    Hatcher said it’s true that in many places communities do not legally own the land. He describes that as a relic of colonial legislation that gave customary rights the lower status of tenancy or occupancy. He also says the promise of jobs by developers is often not realized.

    “Large-scale timber companies move into Central Africa and sign commitments to build schools and produce jobs. And really the fact of the matter is they don’t do much in that regard. They might produce some jobs at low paying wages for people,” he said.

    The Rights and Resources Initiative says international aid can be used as leverage to ensure the land rights of local communities. It says developers will make better returns on their investment if they consult with local communities about the projects, instead of being delayed  by protests or conflict. It says international guidelines, like the Kimberley Process for conflict diamonds, can be used to ensure business is done in accord with customary land laws.

    The initiative is a coalition of international, regional and community organizations working in development, research and conservation. It's stated mission is to "advance forest tenure, policy and market reforms globally" to support local communities.

    You May Like

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Ugandai
    X
    Serginho Roosblad
    February 12, 2016 9:29 PM
    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video Refugees in Kenya Vie to Compete in Rio Olympics

    In Kenya, refugees from other African nations are training at a special camp and competing for a limited number of slots in this year's Rio Olympics under the flag of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Ngong, this is a first in Olympic history.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.