1 May 2012

Africa: Property Rights Key to Poverty Reduction

Washington — Citizens' equal access to the ownership of land and property is crucial to a country's economic development, the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation reports.

"For a poor, rural family, access to a small farm plot can be vital to day-to-day survival, providing family members with food, household income and the possibility of working their way out of poverty," MCC states in its overview of its multiyear programs in property rights and land policy. It says that access to managed grazing areas can support a rural community's livestock and that property ownership can provide urban families with shelter and space to start businesses.

In addition, a well-functioning property rights and land system can help investors obtain land to start and expand businesses, MCC reports. The issue was discussed at an April 23 MCC forum in Washington.

As of the end of December 2011, the development agency had invested a total of about $259 million in property rights projects in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Madagascar, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Ghana, Indonesia, Lesotho, Mali, Namibia, Senegal, Liberia and Zambia.

Those countries used the funding to develop and implement new land legislation, launch land registry systems, form decentralized land-tenure administration agencies and strengthen existing agencies.

MCC-funded projects involve outreach to communities to teach citizens about their property rights and help local authorities learn to use modern technology that improves property rights systems.

The projects include teaching women about the services they can receive without their husband's permission. An MCC-funded project in Lesotho, for example, resulted in the repeal of laws that gave women the legal status of minors. The new laws gave women like Maleribe Leleka the right to use money she had saved from her earnings as a cleaner to buy the materials to build a house.

In Benin, MCC created a program to bolster microfinance institutions that in turn helped small and medium-sized businesses get access to banking services.

With MCC support, Benin now has some of the most sophisticated land-survey software and equipment in Africa. Benin has trained surveyors to use the equipment and is helping thousands of urban and rural residents to obtain property rights.

In Burkina Faso, MCC funded a project that led to a new law recognizing legitimate, previously unrecorded rights to land. And in Mali, MCC helped establish a property registration office near a major irrigation project to issue titles to the improved farmland.

"These interventions have been innovative and, in some cases, unprecedented in MCC's partner countries," the agency reports.

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