Protecting Community Lands and Resources: Evidence from Liberia, Mozambique and Uganda [Executive Summary]

In recent years, governments across Africa, Asia and Latin America have been granting vast land concessions to foreign and domestic investors for agro-industrial enterprises and resource extraction. Often, governments make concessions with a view to furthering development and strengthening the national economy. Yet in many cases, these land concessions dispossess rural communities and deprive them of access to natural resources vital to their livelihoods and economic survival. Even when communities welcome private investment, projects are often undertaken in ways that lead to environmental degradation, human rights violations, loss of access to livelihoods, and inequity.

Communities generally have little power to contest such land grants or advocate for terms more favorable to local prosperity, particularly where they operate under customary law and do not have formal legal title to their lands. In this context, communities need strong legal protections for their lands and natural resources, as well as expedient government implementation of clear, simple, and easy-to-follow legal procedures for the documentation of customary land rights.

Various nations have passed laws that make it possible for rural communities to register their lands as a single legal entity and act as decentralized land administration and management bodies (referred to herein as “community land titling” or “community land documentation”). These laws have the power to protect community lands according to customary paradigms and boundaries — including all family land, forests, grazing lands, water bodies, and other common areas critical to community survival. However, due to various political, financial and capacity constraints, these laws are often not widely or successfully implemented.

To investigate how to best support implementation of such laws, the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) launched a randomized controlled trial in Liberia, Uganda and Mozambique from 2009 to 2011, entitled the “Community Land Titing Initiative.” Together with the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) in Liberia, the Land and Equity Movement in Uganda (LEMU) in Uganda, and Centro Terra Viva (CTV) in Mozambique, IDLO supported communities to follow their nation’s community land registration laws, taking note of the challenges and successes that transpired in the course of these efforts. The first study of its kind worldwide, the intervention’s goal was to better understand both the type and level of support that communities require to successfully complete community land documentation processes as well as how to best facilitate intracommunity protections for the land rights of vulnerable groups.

The study’s primary objectives were to:

1. Facilitate the documentation and protection of customarily held community lands through legally established community land titling processes; 2. Understand how to best and most efficiently support communities to successfully protect their lands and determine the types and level of support required to support communities in these processes; and 3. Devise and pilot strategies to guard against intra-community injustice and discrimination during community land titling processes, and to protect the land interests of vulnerable groups.

Findings and Recommendations:

This report details the communities’ various experiences undertaking the land documentation activities and summarizes the initial impacts of these efforts under the following subject headings: conflict resolution and prevention (encompassing boundary harmonization and demarcation); intra-community governance (encompassing by-laws/constitution drafting); and conservation and sustainable natural resources management (encompassing land and natural resource management plan drafting). It then briefly reviews the obstacles confronted relative to the administrative components of the process.

The report next outlines findings relative to the optimal level of legal intervention necessary to support communities’ successful completion of community land documentation processes as well as what endogenous factors may impact a community’s success. The report then details findings concerning how best to facilitate intra-community protections for the rights of women and other vulnerable groups during the land documentation process. It concludes by setting forth findings and recommendations intended to inform policy dialogue, help nations to refine and improve the implementation of existing community land documentation processes, and provide useful insights for countries seeking to develop laws and policies for community land documentation.

The report also concludes that community land documentation may be a more efficient method of land protection than individual and family titling, and should be prioritized in the short term.

ISBN: 978-0-9858151-0-3