The interest shown in the conference and debate on “Land tenure issues and challenges: perspectives on land tenure in Africa”, organised with the Technical Committee on “Land Tenure and Development” on 6 June 2012 at the AFD, confirms the belief we have held since the 1980s that land tenure is a crucial issue for public policies on spatial planning, growth and reducing poverty and inequality, in rural and urban areas alike.


Land tenure is central to a great many issues:

  • land is the main means of subsistence and the main vector for investments and accumulation of wealth that can be transferred to the next generation. Access to land is therefore a cornerstone for poverty reduction.  
  • land tenure is a key factor in the economic development of agricultural production sectors, natural resource management (grazing lands, forests), management of flood-plains and irrigated croplands and in local development programmes in both urban and rural areas.  For this reason, the question of secure land tenure concerns the whole range of stakeholders from local farmers, local area authorities and public service providers through to national or foreign investors.
  • although the question is far from new, large-scale investments in agriculture have drawn the attention of the media in recent years, showing that regulating access to land is a major social and political issue: food security for a great many people, the sustainability of natural resources and peace all depend on land tenure.

However, building up a land tenure policy is not easy. It can never be a straightforward process because, while stemming from the political will of legislators or the State, it necessarily involves a great many different players with different and sometimes conflicting interests.

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE) and the French Development Agency (AFD) have long been aware of the importance, particularly in Africa, of these processes concerning land tenure.  In 1996, they decided to create the Technical Committee on Land Tenure and Development (CFTD), whose membership includes researchers, civil society players and professionals, to monitor and analyse current land tenure issues in developing countries.

The technical committee’s briefings enable French cooperation activities to take fuller account of the complexities of land tenure governance. It has been operating as a single forum to promote practical applications of research insights and results to field projects and public land tenure policies.

Through its regular publications, in particular its White Paper on land tenure governance and securing land rights in the countries of the South (Gouvernance du foncier et la sécurisation des droits dans les pays du Sud – 2009), the CTFD promotes a new perspective on land tenure based on the recognition of multiple titles to land, including use rights and cropping rights. This new perspective offers an alternative to the current inclination among governments and private-sector players to deliver systematic private property ownership titles.

This contribution from French players to the land rights debate has been, and continues to be, disseminated and shared with partner countries and international organisations at all local, national and international levels.

A number of pilot activities on securing land rights and land management are now under way at the local level in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Madagascar, Benin and Niger, with French cooperation funding through local area authorities or devolved government departments.

In a different context, concerning national public policies (for agriculture, forests, housing, urban areas or land tenure specifically), the dialogue launched in the last ten years with many States is raising the question of lands in the public domain with respect to the recognition of occupancy rights.  French cooperation programmes are again working with certain states (Mali, Burkina, Benin) to develop frameworks for consultations and definitions of land policies and reforms.

Finally, progress in international discussions on land issues is slow and convoluted.  Applicable legislation remains voluntary and non-binding.  Despite the slow progress, French cooperation has continued to advocate the recognition and formalisation of multiple titles to land and, more generally, greater consideration of the approaches developed by the Committee. In practice, these advances have begun to focus on what is variously termed “land appropriation”, “large-scale investment in agricultural lands”, “land takeovers” or “asset transfers”.


Concerning the latter issue and in the wake of the G8 meeting in Aquila in June 2009, France developed a position on the basis of an analysis by the Committee and in partnership with the Interministerial panel on food security (GISA), which is designed to strengthen world governance on land issues. In parallel, following an inclusive negotiating process within the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), a set of “Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests” was adopted at the Global Food Security Symposium on 11 May 2012, on the strength of a broad consensus between the representatives of 96 States and of NGOs, the private sector and international organisations.

The adoption of these Guidelines can be considered a success, as they provide a common reference framework for tenure systems capable of ensuring more secure and more equitable access to land.  They encourage States to develop their own strategies, policies and projects for land and natural resource management. They emphasise, in particular, the need to take local land rights into account, and recommend the introduction of additional land rights protection measures (parliamentary oversight, ceiling land areas) in the case of large-scale appropriation.

However, these Guidelines are only a starting point: the challenge now is to secure their operational implementation in national contexts to address the many and diverse problems of land governance and transparency in agricultural land transactions.

At the national level, this implies analysis of the meaning given to needs for “secure land rights”: what are the rights to be made secure, and for whom? What processes should support the development of these public policies, which must reconcile the need for agricultural investment, food security and guaranteed land use rights? How can the transparency and the economic, social and environmental sustainability of transactions be ensured, along with the implementation of permanent systems for the recognition of rights that do not entail high costs, in order to build balanced relationships between investors, public authorities (both central and decentralised), civil society representatives and producer organisations, and to ensure equitable benefit-sharing between all parties concerned?

Where the transactions themselves are concerned, this means seeking greater transparency and fairness in land contracts and sharing all returns accruing from natural resources.

The necessary vigilance and efforts at many different scales are the stated aims of the Technical Committee on Land Tenure and Development, the French cooperation system and observatory networks, projects in the field, research establishments and support activities for States.

From the Chair of the Technical Committee on “Land tenure and development”. The Co-chairs of the Committee are provided by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE) and the French Development Agency (AFD).

The French cooperation’s Technical Committee on Land Tenure and Development has been active for over 15 years as a group for discussion and exchanges between specialists with varied competencies and from a range of disciplines, under the aegis of the French Development Agency (AFD) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE). The Committee has undertaken numerous studies with published results. Its purpose is to provide players involved in the implementation of land policies with conceptual frameworks and in-depth knowledge to contribute to the development of land policies that bring greater security to populations. 

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