Tag Archives: land-grabbing

Is the European Commission sweet on land grabbing? Trade benefits, sugarcane concessions and dispossession in Cambodia – UPDATED

by David Pred

David Pred is co-founder and managing associate of Inclusive Development International (IDI), an association working to make the international development paradigm more just and inclusive.

Before you reach for that Tate and Lyle sugar packet to sweeten your coffee, you might want to think twice.  While most Tate and Lyle sugar packets carry the Fair Trade label, Cambodian farmers who were displaced and dispossessed by their suppliers say that if you are buying this product, you are buying their blood. Earlier this month, representatives of affected communities called for a consumer boycott of companies selling sugar grown on stolen land, including Tate and Lyle Sugars.

Over the past several years, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians have been uprooted from their homes, farmlands, and forests by companies that have been granted concessions for the development of agro-industrial plantations.

The sugarcane industry has been one of the worst offenders in this land-grabbing crisis. In the last five years, land concessions totaling tens of thousands of hectares have been granted to private companies for industrial sugarcane production.  These concessions have led to the destruction of protected forests and the pollution of water sources. Local farmers’ crops have been razed and their animals shot. Homes have been burned to the ground. Thousands of women and children have been left destitute.  Some have been thrown in jail for daring to protest.

Despite the abundant evidence of these crimes, none of the responsible individuals and companies have been held to account. As if that wasn’t scandalous enough, this ‘blood sugar’ is being exported to Europe, where it receives special trade benefits under the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) initiative.  Through this preferential trading scheme, the world’s least developed countries are able to export goods to the EU with zero tariffs or quotas, and in the case of sugar, at a guaranteed minimum price.

It should be a crime to peddle goods produced on stolen land, but instead the land-grabbers are awarded special trade privileges.

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FAO global guidelines on tenure of land, forests and fisheries adopted

by Rhodri C. Williams

I’m not sure who comes out looking worse on this one, BBC or me. On BBC’s ledger sheet, I was intrigued to see a headline to the effect that the “UN adopts historic ‘land grab’ guidelines” – and even more intrigued to click on it and find no links, nor the barest reference to the sponsoring UN agency, the name of the guidelines or any other clear hints as to how I might set about reverse engineering my way to the actual text the article was about.

Lets stop for a second and consider what this says about how the UN is perceived. Would the BBC note the passage of an important policy in the US without once naming the responsible government ministry, the actual name of the policy or the URL where you could find the text? It must be distressing for UN employees to find their sprawling, diverse, and often bitterly divided institution still so easily written off as a monolith.

For my own part, I eventually managed to use the one direct quote in the BBC piece to find my way to a much more journalistically impressive effort by the Miami Herald. Which helped me to the realization that I had lost track of the process of adoption of the FAO’s new ‘Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security’, despite having blogged on them only a month ago.

In my own defense, I had reasonable grounds for confusion. Most of the buzz generated by the guidelines so far seems to come from their association with addressing the current phenomenon of large scale investments in land (more colloquially referred to as large scale land-grabbing). For instance, the BBC describes them flat out as “guidelines for rich countries buying land in developing nations”.

However, the FAO itself announces the guidelines in a much more nuanced manner that conforms to my own earlier understanding: although much of the “public debate has focused on the so-called ‘land-grabbing’ phenomenon,” this is only “one of the issues that are dealt with in these guidelines.” The press release notes that the new text “address a wide range of other issues” as well, many of them far more “entrenched” than land-grabbing.

In fact, the current guidelines appear to focus on the ‘supply side’ – what states experiencing outside investment can do to mitigate the conditions that leave their own populations exposed to its worst effects. Recommended measures such as recognition of customary rights, dispute resolution measures and managing urbanization are clearly directed toward the local authorities, and meant to confront destructive state practices such as the ongoing tendency to exploit post-colonial legacies in the form of ‘state land‘.

Meanwhile, behind all the noise (land grabbing sells, it seems), the FAO affirms that the separate and parallel process of developing guidelines for the ‘demand-side’ actors actually doing the investing in land remains on course:

For its part, the [FAO Committee on World Food Security] will next take a focused look at the issue of responsible agricultural investments in general. The body is currently planning a yearlong consultative process, to start in October, that could culminate in set of recommended principles for responsible investment in agriculture later in 2013.

In implementing the new guidelines, the FAO is banking on buy-in achieved in what was, by all accounts, an exemplary consultative process. It has also planned to engage in technical assistance and develop a series of technical handbooks designed to help countries adapt the guidelines to their local contexts. So more information – presumably along with a dose of confusion – to come.

The Economist on land and natural resources in Southeast Asia

by Rhodri C. Williams

The Economist has run a number of interesting pieces on housing, land and property (HLP) issues as well as natural resource disputes, in southeast Asia (readers be warned: the paywall arrangement now allows non-subscribers to view five articles for free every week, but I think the below pick just squeak in).

Beginning with Burma/Myanmar, a pair of articles from last week’s issue highlight the dark economic underbelly of the country’s current political reform process. A comment on the standoff over the opposition’s refusal to swear an oath to “safeguard” the current, military junta-installed constitution notes the risk that the political debate about the constitution may be a sideshow. Given that the reforms made so far have been enough to ease economic sanctions on Burma, and that the generals that have symbolically conceded political power continue to retain their economic interests, the Economist concludes that “all the boasts of political reform look less like a blueprint for democracy, and more like the generals’ pension plan.”

These concerns serve to reinforce earlier inferences (discussed here and here in TN) that a wave of dubious privatization that preceded the current round of political liberalization may have been intended to allow the military leaders of the country to cash in on their land and natural resource grabs. The extent of this rapaciousness is documented in a separate Economist article, which describes how the nearly feudal style of military occupation of the rebellious ethnic states in Myanmar has opened the door to both wholesale natural resource theft and drug trafficking:

On the back of its formal military role, the army has also built up a suffocating economic grip on the region. Across Myanmar, the national army has for years pursued a policy of “living off the land”. Battalions are obliged to become their own farmers and businessmen in order to feed themselves and pay their wages.

In my earlier comments on Burma (linked above), I raised the risk that liberalization could follow the same path as in Cambodia, where a neo-patrimonial regime has dangled the barest of fig leaves over its essentially predatory governance mode. The continuity of this tradition has been confirmed in this week’s Economist, which reports on the apparent killing by the Cambodian military of Chhut Vuthy, an activist against illegal logging who founded the Natural Resources Protection Group.

Remaining with Cambodia, it seems that what one does within one’s own borders is one thing, but that cross-border rapaciousness will not be tolerated. The Economist also reports this week that Cambodia has led fierce protests against a unilateral decision by Laos (cheered on by Thai construction interests) to begin construction of a massive dam on the Mekong River, despite a recommendation by a regional commission that further study on the downstream effects be undertaken.

Finally, HLP rights expert Daniel Fitzpatrick is quoted in an interesting report on East Timor. There, it seems the post-independence government succeeded to the ‘state land’ previously taken from smallholders by successive Portuguese and Indonesian occupiers, and is now facing a familiar dilemma. On one hand, justice requires some form of recognition of the claims of those previously dispossessed in the countryside. On the other hand, the lure of badly needed revenues from international concessions beckons.

Someday, none of this will be yours: the predatory state eyes ‘public’ land

by Rhodri C. Williams

In trying to keep track of even a fraction of the local and regional flare-ups over land rights these days, I keep thinking back to times when I was working in Bosnia and a  particularly infected property dispute would come up in the course of the restitution process. My colleague Charles P (one of the unsung geniuses behind the famous ‘PLIP‘) would shake his head wearily and mutter the climactic phrases of a classic quote from Gone with the Wind:

Why, land is the only thing in the world worth working for. Worth fighting for, worth dying for. Because it’s the only thing that lasts.

It has long been understood that land is fundamental to the material needs and identity of just about anyone not yet caught up in the great wave of urbanization that characterizes our time (as well as many of those who have). The Endorois decision by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights also represents the latest in a long line of affirmations that recognition of the rights of those with longstanding claims to land through use and attribution is a precondition for them to participate in the life of the state on equitable terms.

It has also long been axiomatic that states retain the final word on land use, and that even where formal nationalization never took place, post-colonial states often inherited – and maintained – laws that held all land not formally owned in a state of inchoate expropriation. Shaun Williams writes on the ongoing challenges presented by ‘state land’ administration in post-colonial urban settings in a recent TN guest-posting, while Liz Alden Wily describes the rural consequences of the ‘public land’ problem in a pithy contribution to ODI’s 2009 research on land and conflict issues.

After the Cold War, the notion that individual and community rights to land might come to be seen as on a par with the state claims to eminent domain were buoyed on the rising tides of human rights and human security. Even if few dared to go as far as to posit a general right to land, there was a sense that policy was pointing in a protective direction. The rise of the post-conflict restitution discourse as symbolized by the Pinheiro Principles has been one example. Another has been the tendency for development standards and instruments to give property rights greater prominence. For instance, The Atlantic recently inferred a paradigm shift in international views on property rights from the post-Cold War proliferation of bilateral investment treaties (BITs) incorporating protections of private property rights:

While the specifics often differ, many BIT provisions protecting foreign investments have become near universal. Both the Turkey-Turkmenistan and U.S.-El Salvador agreements protect foreign investments from direct or indirect expropriation, nationalization, or similar measures “except for a public purpose, in a non-discriminatory manner, upon payment of prompt, adequate and effective compensation, and in accordance with due process of law.” Some countries’ more recent BITs also contain provisions designed to protect environment, labor, public health, and other public policy concerns in addition to the property rights of foreign investors.

However, the Atlantic’s declaration of a post-Cold War “worldwide revolution in how we think about international law and private property” seems premature, precisely because the line between “private” and “public” property remains so heavily contested. Meanwhile, a host of new factors have pushed many states from simply maintaining the status quo (e.g. allowing their populations to continue using ‘state land’ largely unmolested but without the prospect of genuine tenure security) to active predation. The combination of a general economic downturn, rising food and commodity prices, and new forms of state-backed investment have led many states to put their hand in the cookie jar, allocating nationalized and public land to domestic and international investors at a handsome (and typically highly untransparent) profit.

However, the basic dependence and attachment of families and communities to land they consider their own remains, leading to what must be an unprecedented proliferation of sharp and often violent confrontations between states (particularly less representative ones where governments may stand for ethnic or economic elites) and their own citizens over territory. The problem is not limited to states that have nationalized their land or ‘inherited’ public land from prior colonial regimes. However, it seems particularly acute in such settings precisely because the ordinary devices for protecting property from state intrusion assume the prior grant or recognition of rights in such property. Where such rights were ostensibly extinguished by nationalizations or colonial declarations of public land, legality is shifted to the side of the state and communities with every possible equitable right to their land are implausibly – but legally – reframed as squatters.

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Promoting equity through improved urban state land governance

by Shaun Williams

Shaun Williams is Land and Natural Resources Governance Adviser to the Justice for the Poor program of the World Bank.

In many emergent states, where significant proportions of property in de-colonized national territory is still held customarily, reform questions around immovable property and development often tend to be focused on rights issues within customary estates. However in these newer nations, state-owned land commonly includes the most economically valuable land, including significant areas of urban land, on which development pressure is high. This land was commonly first expropriated out of customary estates by colonial powers and then subsequently acquired by post independence states as part of a liberation ‘dividend’.

Most departing imperial powers evaded responsibility for restitution of colonial era dispossessions, as subsequently have post independent states, thereby protracting a significant source of much civil discontent.  Many new states have also been unable to overhaul the arcane land administration institutions they inherited, which were designed to service the land needs of long gone, colonial era, church and trading elites, thereby frustrating the configuration of the new elite coalitions of local entrepreneurs needed to accommodate the rapid urbanization they are all experiencing (UN-HABITAT has estimated that 30% of all Solomon Islanders and almost 40% of Vanuatu’ and Timor-Leste’ populations will be living in cities by 2030). As the legitimization, adjudication and enforcement of property rights is a core function of nation states, these failures in turn undermine wider state building projects.

More important perhaps, throughout the developing world poor governance of state land negatively impacts the poor materially. Mismanagement of state land results in loss of significant amounts of economic rent (because of the high value of state land) that could otherwise be spent on the public services or invested in the infrastructure upon which the poor depend. These foregone rents are frequently being captured by the patrons of sometimes corrupt administrators operating within highly discretionary and otherwise dysfunctional regulatory frameworks.

Indifferent management of state land clogs up land markets, notably urban immovable property markets where demand is high and supply is tight.  Poorly managed disposal of state property is equally unlikely to produce better outcomes. Warehousing by speculators of leases and concessions of state owned land, frequently acquired through opaque and uncompetitive allocations, further restricts supply, particularly of urban land, thereby inflating urban land prices and directly contributing to the unaffordability of city housing for both the poor families and low- to middle-income earners.

Recent evidence from Solomon Islands suggests that a reform focus on the governance of state land holdings, even if relatively small in area, can yield outsized benefits. In Solomon Islands, as much as 10 percent of GDP may be affected by how effectively urban state (referred to in the relevant Solomon Islands legislation as ‘public’) land is governed and the World Bank’s Justice for the Poor program, UN-HABITAT, and other partners are working to catalyze interagency coordination to move towards improve urban state land governance.

For more information please see the Justice for the Poor program Briefing Note Public Land Governance in Solomon Islands or the Justice for the Poor website.

Week in links – Week 50/2011 – Durban, Wukan, Tawergha, Hoima

Quite a lot of interest last week, here goes:

First, Opinio Juris’ Dan Bodansky produced a nice concise guide to what actually happened in the unexpectedly (and confusingly) successful Durban meeting on climate change, followed by a longer analytical piece.  Hopenhagen its not, but neither, apparently, a complete fiasco. All beauteously skewered by the Onion:

Ultimately, however, our personal moments of distress won’t matter much unless our government intervenes with occasional mentions of climate change in important speeches, or by passing nonbinding legislation on the subject. I implore you: Spend a couple minutes each year imagining yourself writing impassioned letters to your elected representatives demanding a federal cap on emissions.

Next, all hell has once again broken loose in a Chinese village that has seen virtually all its arable land siphoned off in crooked development deals. In this case, Wukan village in southern China’s Guangdong province exploded in protests after a local butcher appointed to negotiate with the government was arrested and died in custody. The villagers succeeded in entirely driving out local authorities and appear to still be in a state of open revolt, with police having set up a cordon  around the area without reestablishing control.

The BBC ran an analysis piece last week pointing out the increasing levels of so-called ‘mass incidents’ related to land and how China’s ‘rigid stability’ policy – which sets a premium on absolute social calm above all other considerations – appears to have reached the point of diminishing returns in the face of such grievances. Tao Ran describes the corrosive effect of land disputes on local democracy for the Guardian. Finally, an analysis on the WSJ blog raised the worrisome intimation that the implacable logic of land development in China may threaten the country’s food security:

(A local expert indicates) that local officials have seized about 16.6 million acres of rural land (more than the entire state of West Virginia) since 1990, depriving farmers of about two trillion yuan ($314 billion) due to the discrepancy between the compensation they receive and the land’s real market value.

China’s Land Ministry has also warned that misappropriation of farmland has brought the country dangerously close to the so-called red line of 296 million acres of arable land that the government believes it needs to feed China’s 1.34 billion people.

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But the central government’s attempts to curb such abuses, and to draft new legislation that would protect against land grabs and give farmers a market rate for their land, have met fierce resistance from local authorities who rely on land sales to maintain growth, service debt and top up their budgets.

In 2010 alone, China’s local governments raised 2.9 trillion yuan from land sales. And the National Audit Office estimates that 23% of local government debt, which it put at 10.7 trillion yuan in June, depends on land sales for repayment.

Moving to Libya, transitional human rights complications continue to pile up (see an earlier posting on restitution questions here). BBC now reports that one of the most problematic human rights issues in the new Libya appears to have resulted from an act of revenge – not that taken on the late ‘buffoon dictator‘ Ghaddafi himself – but an apparent reprisal against the entire population of the town of Tawergha. The population of Tawergha were ethnically distinct, singled out for favor by Ghaddafi (as were the Tuareg minority, see posting here) and allegedly implicated in severe human rights violations related to the regime’s attempt to retake neighboring Misrata. They are now displaced in camps throughout Libya, unable to return to a town described as laid waste:

Building after building is burnt and ransacked. The possessions of the people who lived here are scattered about, suggesting desperate flight. In places, the green flags of the former regime still flutter from some of the houses.

Finally, the Guardian reports on the residents of the Hoima district of western Uganda, where local residents fully expect to bear the cost of the rest of the country’s development as plans to develop an oil refinery there take shape. May the other shoe drop gently and in strict accordance with international involuntary resettlement standards…

Back to business as usual in Cambodia?

by Rhodri C. Williams

Followers of this blog will have noticed a pattern of periodic eruptions of postings regarding land issues in Cambodia. Last Spring, it was brought on by a decision by the World Bank  Executive Board to give effect to an earlier Inspection Panel ruling finding fault with the Bank’s implementation of land titling programs. Later last Summer, it related to the Bank’s resulting standoff with the Cambodian government over setting aside land for people facing eviction from the Boeung Kak Lake (BKL) neighborhood of Phnom Penh – a staring match that the Bank appeared to win, albeit without guarantees any further reforms would ensue.

Having left Cambodia to its own devices for a while, my attention was drawn back when frequent TN guest-blogger Natalie Bugalski informed me about a recent Amnesty International report that she wrote outlining the experience of five women who have experienced forced evictions in the country. One of them, Vanny, has led protests against the Boeung Kak Lake development:

On 11 August 2011, the community achieved a partial victory when the prime minister ordered a portion of land to be handed over to the remaining 800 families for onsite housing in plots with legal ownership.

Vanny said: “A lot of people think that this is the first success of people’s demonstration… it’s a great example for other communities all over the country,” she said. Yet Vanny still feels insecure. “When I leave my house, I don’t know whether I can expect to come home or not.”

Vanny has good reason to be concerned, as she now faces a defamation charge brought by the Municipality of Phnom Penh.  In addition, eight more homes on the edge of Boeung Kak Lake were destroyed by bulldozers on 16 September, the families left homeless.

The destruction last September of the homes left out of the BKL deal support concerns that the Government may plan to tailor its concession to the World Bank as narrowly as possible. This inference is also supported by the heedless brutality with which the evictions were apparently carried out. The matter-of-fact nature of such violence is captured in Heather Stilwell’s report for Asia Calling on BKL resident Suong Sophoan’s quixotic attempt at civil disobedience:

“I was born in Boeung Kak, so I must protect my place and these people. I stood in front of the tractors to stop them and to solve this problem with peaceful non-violence. At the same time, I tell them that if you want to destroy these houses, you must destroy me first.”

Police kicked him and beat him with guns. They left him on the ground, unconscious and bloody. Then they destroyed the homes.

Natalie reported that the Government has dismissed Amnesty’s “black report” as shameful. To get a taste of official policy on land, I checked Cambodia’s London Embassy website, which is frequently tasked with composing baroquely worded refutals of international criticism (follow links to ‘Ambassador’, then ‘Media Releases’ and ‘Responses’). On the front page I noticed a curious call for investment (“Rich in farmland”) that mixed disarming candor (“it is unclear exactly what the deals with Qatar and Kuwait are…”) with an intriguing reference to working with small farmers:

The Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) approved agricultural investment projects worth a combined $499.7 million in the first eight months of 2009, in comparison to $81.7 million worth of projects approved over the same period in 2008.

For investors looking to grow and process crops, Cambodia is an ideal location with plenty of land available for agricultural concessions. The Cambodian agriculture & agro-industry sector has developed significantly in recent years and has great potential for investment, employment creation and as a source for economic growth.

Qatar and Kuwait have also signed agreements to secure long-term food supplies for their countries. The UAE is also keen to explore opportunities in rice cultivation in Cambodia. It is unclear exactly what the deals with Qatar and Kuwait are, but Cambodia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hor Namhong, told reporters that a memorandum of understanding had been signed with Kuwait agreeing to finance a $350,000 irrigation project that would cover 130,000 hectares of rice fields.

Cambodia is rich in farmland and hopes to attract more investment to the sector. The country wants to develop its rice exports and therefore welcomes investors, especially those willing to work with small farmers. In return for investments such as credit and technical assistance, farmers would be contracted to sell their crops to the investor.

However, anyone hoping that this notice may portend a fresh approach to rural land and natural resource concessions would be well-advised to skim the national news page of the Phnom Penh Post. Highlights currently include a judge severely beaten by seven suspected illegal loggers and left by the roadside, as well as coastal villagers cut off by a military checkpoint in order to ease them off land conceded to a Chinese concern. In the latter case, the type of frustration expressed by urban BKL residents is evident in a less guarded form:

“If this had happened in the past, I would join the Khmer Rouge to protect my land,” said Sim Navy, adding that she was furious with the government for granting the land she lives on to a Chinese company.

So it seems that the Cambodian authorities have reverted to form? Given the scale of land grabbing and forced evictions in Cambodia’s recent history, it would be unfair to expect the World Bank to tackle the issue on its own. On the other hand, it is not clear that weighty international donors and policymakers are lining up behind the Bank’s efforts. And at the end of the day, the Cambodian authorities should know better. Alongside all the reports and recommendations and rhetoric, there is the simple truth that behavior like land-grabbing is destructive of any sense of national purpose or civic trust. In an incisive blog post from last Fall, an expat in Cambodia described the effect of the despoliation of land he and his Cambodian wife had bought on one decent person:

Whilst many of the landowners had had their homes and livelihoods destroyed, and had been physically assaulted, I initially told myself that we had only lost land and money. However, the events had a traumatic effect on my family. By this time my father-in-law was very sick with cancer (he has since passed away, a week ago). In those last few months of his life he began to question out loud whether he’d been a fool to have lived a life of honesty and integrity in Cambodia. He felt responsible that he had recommended the land to us because he knew the sellers to be decent people, and he regretted that he had left his family poor due to his fairness whilst other unscrupulous people in positions of power were giving their families a good life. A good man’s spirit was crushed.

Week in links – week 43/2011

First, can’t we all find a reasonable substitute for palm oil if we put our heads together? The litany of indigenous cultures being wiped off the face of the earth so that the formula we give our kids in the evening won’t clot is becoming mind-numbing. Here, the New York Times reports on the latest victims of tasty, affordable transfats in Malaysia. However, lest we forget that plenty of other threats exist, the BBC reports on the standoff over the Belo Monte dam in Brazil, which threatens the traditional fishing grounds of Amazonian indigenous groups, and the UNHCR describes the plight of indigenous peoples displaced by the violence in Mindanao.

Second, the BBC provides evidence that property issues are already rearing their ugly head in the new Libya. The extent to which the NTC tent will be big enough to accommodate the traumatized residents of Sirte may well depend on how quickly the NTC can get said residents out of tents and back into their homes.

And finally, the New York Times reports on how a middle class suburb in Beijing is now being exposed to the same type of frenetic official land grabbing that its relatively pampered residents thought could only happen to “peasants in the countryside or voiceless city people with no education”. In a curious form of negative egalitarianism, the local government has not hesitated to administer beatings to protesters and harnessed an impressive mix of new and old media to its cause:

From morning until sundown, a van drives through the neighborhood blaring warnings. “Don’t be influenced by other people who might cause you unnecessary loss,” the loudspeaker says again and again. Daily text messages that clog residents’ cellphones drive home that point. More than one resident has had a window smashed. A half dozen homes, their owners having folded, have already been leveled.

Web-based education tool aims to mainstream land rights into international development thinking

by Anna Knox and Peter Veit

NB: This guest post was originally posted on Landesa’s Field Focus blog, and is cross-posted on TN with the kind permission of Landesa and the World Resources Institute. TN readers are advised of a number of other interesting recent postings on the Landesa blog, including a critique of the short-term thinking behind large-scale land acquisition in Africa, an analysis of the negative correlation between women’s land rights and domestic violence, and defenses of the virtues of small firms by Robert Mitchell and Bill Gates.

Regardless of what matters to you – access to education, universal food security, strengthening women’s rights, or a healthier environment – land rights plays a key role in achieving these goals.

When people have secure access to land, it can lead to:

  • Economic development through increased agricultural productivity,
  • Improved childhood nutrition,
  • Increased school attendance and investments in basic education,
  • Increased environmental stewardship,
  • Reduced potential for social instability and conflict,
  • Reduce vulnerability to domestic violence.

Focus on Land in Africa, a recently launched web-based tool focused on sub-Saharan Africa, aims to help policymakers and practitioners understand the links between land rights and critical development outcomes. Designed by World Resources Institute and Landesa as an online education tool, the site is interactive and uses slideshows, timelines, maps, videos and more in order to appeal to and engage users. Currently, the tool features lessons drawn from six sub-Saharan African countries: Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda. These lessons were developed with funding support provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. More countries will be featured as the tool grows.

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Clearing the way forward: mine action and post-conflict land issues

by Jon Unruh

 Recently the Geneva Centre for International Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) explored new ground in linking land rights to ‘mine action’. Mine action is essentially all the activities related to demining efforts–certainly taking mines out of the ground but also the related activities of survey, record keeping, education, advocacy, turning cleared land over to government, dealing with local communities, etc.  The Centre commissioned seven studies on the relationship between landmines and land rights (Afghanistan, Yemen, Angola, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, South Sudan, and Bosnia) and then held a workshop in Cambodia on the topic designed to chart a way forward for policymakers.

Coming at the topic from a land tenure perspective I found it all quite intriguing. The studies revealed a lot more connections than I had realized. The spatial aspect of both land tenure and landmines certainly bring the two together in a variety of ways, but so does sequencing of areas to be cleared, strategies of mine laying and clearing, different approaches to dealing with local communities, government demining and legal capacity, and the different ways of operating for domestic and international private, humanitarian and government organizations that engage in a variety of types of demining.

Two of the more problematic linkages are land grabbing that occurs on the heels of demining, and lack of awareness on the part of demining organizations. The first occurs in a variety of ways and to such a degree that some communities do not want their land to be demined because they fear it will be seized, while others purposefully plant mines to deter seizure, demarcate, or otherwise provide for fairly strange forms of tenure security in wartime settings. The second is related to the first in that most demining organizations are very unaware of the land problems they can leave in their wake. With very little capacity to deal with land issues, or even enough awareness to avoid land conflicts that they contribute to or cause, most demining organizations seek safety in their stated and much valued notions of ‘neutrality’.

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