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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs