International Development Law Organization

Land Rights

In many African countries, the majority of land is under customary tenure: the rights, rules and responsibilities to possess, occupy and use it are based on community customs. But customary-held land rarely enjoys adequate protection under national laws; any legal mechanisms to uphold land rights may be easily circumvented. With land-based investments expanding rapidly in Africa in recent years, scarce resources are coming under pressure. Conflicts erupt between competing land users. Communities find themselves dispossessed.

Strengthening the legal framework for customary land-rights holders is crucial for their legal recognition and protection. IDLO works to elevate the land rights of communities in Africa and empower customary rights holders to protect their land.

For more information, see IDLO's publication Protecting. Community Lands and Resources. Evidence from Liberia, Mozambique and Uganda.

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Key Initiatives

  • Sustainable management of natural resources in Indonesia is negatively affected by overlapping land permits, with local governments, companies, local populations and indigenous people simultaneously claiming the same land. In East Kalimantan, the government has identified several nature reserve areas, but in the same area there are vast coal deposits, oil palm plantation sites and timber, gas, oil and coal extraction companies. Beyond this, local communities claim ownership of land based on historic or customary rights.

  • Fires are affecting forests and peat lands in Indonesia. This is problematic because these areas are often declared de facto open areas for which the government grants licenses to concession companies. Overlapping permits can result in farmers being displaced on their own lands, tenure conflicts and the criminalization or eviction of rural communities.

  • In Burundi, land tenure registration is the primary way for the government to deal with the large number of land disputes across the country. A series of pilot programs aimed at resolving land rights issues have been initiated in recent years. To date, however, it is unclear whether these pilot programs have had their intended effect of reducing the number of land disputes.

  • ​In June 2015, IDLO commenced the project: Researching the Impact of Land Tenure Registration on Land Disputes and Women’s Land Rights in Burundi.

    Land Tenure Registration (LTR) programs involve issuing proof of ownership to holders of land rights to increase their legal certainty. Such programs are undertaken for a variety of reasons. While much is known about the impact of LTR on factors like access to credit and agricultural output, there is a gap in knowledge of its impact on land disputes, particularly in post-conflict settings.

  • Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia are rich in forests, land and minerals, but have struggled to derive development benefits from these natural resources. Although land use investments can activate economic, social and environmental progress (such as local employment creation, wealth generation and infrastructure establishment), positive development outcomes are not automatic.

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