North Africa: Proper Land Policies Crucial to Development

Published on 14th December 2008

Vast Land: North Africa

Land is at the heart of all economic activity and a subject that has gained prominence the world at large since the 1990s - Land policy reform. Though the challenges vary considerably across regions and countries, the last decade has seen a tremendous increase in the demand for policy advice on land use. It is within this context that particular attention is being paid on the issue of land in the North Africa region and the expectation is that  key land-related challenges and opportunities for the North Africa Region as well as gaps in the knowledge, institutions and the resources in implementing the current land initiatives in the respective countries and also in the context of North Africa will be identified.

Land, labour, and capital are the three essential factors that underpin all socio-economic production. Land is an essential aspect of wealth generation; in job creation, production of goods and services, and indeed all effort for the reduction of poverty in our continent is linked to the availability of Land. The attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, including the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and numerous other aspects of our development are interwoven with the use of land. 

In the Africa region in particular, there is increasing stakeholder awareness on the need to complement the broader macroeconomic policies with attention to structural issues such as land to ensure the realization of greater economic opportunities. Structural policies affect the way in which the benefits of other policy interventions are realized. Policymakers now better understand the shortcomings of past approaches to land policy. There is recognition and acceptance that poorly designed land policies and regulations hamper economic growth and development.

The challenges from inadequate and inappropriate land policies and legislation have resulted in poor and unresponsive systems of land administration which have in turn been associated with high costs. These costs in turn are responsible for the current situation of poverty in many of our African countries. All these are manifested in unequal land distribution, insecure access to land which leads to increased vulnerability especially for the poor, low investment on land, low productivity especially in agriculture which is the mainstay of most of the African countries, low urban development and unsustainable management of natural resources. One grave consequence is chronic food insecurity and the low rate of development in Africa. 

To address these concerns, the following factors ought to be addressed:Unproductive cultural practices and poor governance characterized by a continuation of centralized systems with lack of transparency and low consultation; Disproportionate allocation of land that has affected peace, security and equitable economic development m parts of our continent; Discrimination of certain segments of society including women and inadequate representation m systems of land governance and Low levels of policy dialogue with the wider population. 

Development is fundamentally a process of change and strengthening poor people's land rights and easing barriers to land transactions can give way to many other social and economic benefits and most importantly; improved governance systems, greater empowerment of women and other marginalized groups, increased private and public sector investment, higher levels of economic growth, poverty reduction and indeed the overall development of our continent.  

By Peter Mwanakatwe

Officer-In-Charge, ADB Ethiopia Office

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