Slow, stealthy and steady – capacity development to address land tenure issues in development programmes: experiences of the IFAD/GLTN TSLI-ESA Project

Agatha Achieng Wanyonyi, Solomon Mkumbwa, Harold Liversage, Omar Sylla


Land and natural resource tenure security is a central yet often neglected area for economic development and poverty reduction in the developing world. Land is fundamental to the lives of poor rural people. It is a source of food, shelter, income and social identity. Secure access to land reduces vulnerability to hunger and poverty. There are some 1.3 billion extremely poor people in the world, struggling to survive on less than US$1.25 a day, and close to a billion continue to suffer from chronic under-nourishment. About 70 per cent of these people live in the rural areas of developing countries. In most rural societies, the poorest people often have weak or unprotected tenure rights. This condition undermines them from using their land resource effectively. They also risk losing land they depend on to more powerful groups including private investors.

Women and youth are particularly vulnerable because their land rights may be obtained through kinship relationships with men or families. If those links are severed, women and youth can lose their rights. When insufficient attention is paid to secure access by small-scale producers and to land tenure issues, development programmes can become part of the problem. Most development programmes continue to eschew land tenure issues because they are sticky and difficult issues to be addressed, at least, in the timeframe of a classic programme. As such, the tenure issues linger around and affect the outcome of the programmes. While many other issues are attributed to their failures, again, land tenure issues are swept under the carpet.

This paper presents the experiences of implementing capacity development for strengthening tenure security in IFAD supported programmes in Eastern and Southern Africa. Most of the data was gathered during missions and many interactions with communities and staff of the about 20 IFAD supported programmes that TSLI-ESA worked with.

In all programmes tenure issues were present, albeit to varying extents – be it those programmes promoting sustainable natural resources management, agricultural productivity, agricultural value chain development, and rural finance. Tenure issues were analysed during design missions, and if they were predicted to have significant impacts, appropriate interventions were designed and integrated in the programme plan documents. The tenure interventions were, however, not the primary objectives of the programmes hence, the scope, budget and detail of implementation tended to be less emphasized relative to the other ‘core’ interventions of the programmes.

Furthermore, in some cases, potentially salient tenure issues were not very apparent at the design stage. In such cases land tenure interventions were not explicitly integrated into the programme design, mainly because their impacts on the outputs of the programme were, at least initially, calculated to be insignificant. Such issues were addressed retrospectively during the programme implementation following a programme re-design, an exercise that makes sure the programme bounce back on track.

Key lessons, there is need to exhaustively consider implications of potential land tenure issues from the start including their anticipated consequences, and where possible include them in the programme plan. Secondly, there is need to integrate tenure issues in programme monitoring and evaluation system to keep track of tenure issues and their potential impact on programme delivery. There is need to provide evidence-based report to local and national authorities responsible for administration, management and policy for land and natural resources of any salient tenure security issues that are beyond the scope of, but have significant impact on, the programme being implemented. We recommend for establishment of centralized tenure desk at national or local level to attend to tenure issues from the various programmes, both public and private.


tenure security,poor people,women, youth,rural

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