Land is Crucial for Development

The Liberian town of Kinjor is a picture-book example for what happens, if land rights aren’t protected, and it illustrates how to move forward from there. The keyword: Multi-Actor Partnership

Ich bin ein Alternativtext
"Land is crucial to national development, which makes it relevant to political actors." © picture-alliance/Zentralbild

M. Sahr Nouwah

M. Sahr Nouwah is a dedicated young Liberian with a servant-leadership skill and a hands-on and result-oriented gifts with a solid background in governance, community development, advocacy and empowerment. As a National Head of Projects for two Land rights projects supported by the European Union and the Germany Foreign Ministry for International development cooperation separately, Sahr uses a mix methodology including Multi-Actor Partnerships (MSPs) and social innovative approaches to effect change in the Land reform processes of Liberia using constructive dialogue and engagement.

Roselyn Korleh

Roselyn Korleh is the Communication, Policy and Reporting Officer on the BMZ Funded Multi Actor Partnership project called ‘’Land for Life- Making Policies Work for Food Security in Liberia working with Rights and Rice Foundation; a national Implementing Partner to Welthungerhilfe.

Welthungerhilfe (WHH)

Welthungerhilfe

Kinjor is a small town in Grand Cape Mount County, North-Western Liberia, approximately 100 km from Monrovia. Amongst the original residents of Kinjor are two ethnic groups: the Gola, who are referred to as land owners because they inherited the land from their ancestors, and the Vai who are referred to as the settlers because they migrated from their original village years ago to settle in Kinjor in search of gold. The Vai and many other tribes living in Kinjor live at the mercy of the Golas.

 

This town is the home of Edwin Saye with his wife and two kids. He migrated here from Nimba County  in search of fertile soil and other mineral resources about 12 years ago. But regardless of how long they have been bere, Edwin and many others remain strangers without hope of one day being recognized as citizens of the location. Both of Edwin’s children were born in this town but they and their parents are deprived of the right to use the land freely.

 

 

Ich bin ein Alternativtext
Edwin Saye`s children, eleven and five years old, support their father. © Land Rights Team/Welthungerhilfe

Like many others, Edwin depends on farming. According to him, he is denied using the land except by permission which allegedly includes unspecified demands of payments by a group called “the Land Administrators”. One narration by some young men of the village suggests that to gain access to a piece of land for farming, one must pay 2500.00 Liberian Dollars (equivalent to about USD 20.00to the Gola people every year.

 

Edwin further revealed that if people don’t have the money to pay for a piece of land, they go to the middle of the forest to farm, where nobody can easily trace them. But whenever they are caught, they have to pay 5,000.00 Liberian Dollars (equivalent to about USD 50.00) or their farms are taken away from them. For this reason, he said, many community members are not developing farms, and things are so difficult for the people of New Kinjor.

 

Edwin concluded by saying that their survival depends on the land and hard work. He teaches his children how to farm and cut trees which are then burned to produce coal that he sells. Edwin works daily with his children who, despite only being 11 and 5 years old, already master the skills of handling cutlass even though they are supposed to be in school.

 

If the community people, especially women, can’t afford to pay the stipulated fees, they negotiate with the town management team (10-member committee led by a doctorate holder) to allow them to continue to farm; during harvest, a certain percentage (which was not disclosed) is given to the management team.  

 

This situation explains why development interventions cannot simply concentrate on contributing to food security through improved agricultural production. The underlying social structures, and the land rights situation in particular, have to be considered for any intervention to be successful and sustainable.

In many countries, for many years, land rights have been a source of conflict. Traditional concepts of land ownership vary between regions and are often not easy to reconcile with more recently introduced land rights legislation. In many African regions, rural land rights are not documented; moreover, land ownership is often subject to multiple, overlapping claims and ongoing debates over these claims’ legitimacy and their implications for land use and the distribution of revenue.

 

With new stakeholders coming into play (such as international agricultural investors leasing large tracts of land), still another potentially conflictive dynamic is introduced. In Liberia, agricultural concessions, many for palm oil and rubber, have increased sharply during the past decade, covering an estimated 40% of the available agricultural land in the country today; a development, that has already led to violent clashes in different regions.

 

Edwin`s situation could change when he is granted secure access to and control over land.

 

Edwin is a hard-working farmer, but his production level is low. He has no incentive to invest in the land as the expectations of rights over the returns are insecure.

 

His situation could change when he is granted secure access to and control over land. Given the complexity of land tenure systems and the different dynamics that come into play, only transparent social dialogue involving all relevant actors can lead to sustainable change for land users, including women and children, land owners, traditional authorities, public administrations, and the agribusiness sector.

 

Ich bin ein Alternativtext
Kinjor is a small town in the lush forests of western Liberia,about hundred kilometres away from the capital Monrovia. © Land Rights Team/Welthungerhilfe

Land is crucial to national development, which makes it relevant to political actors. It is also a valuable economic asset; a fact, which makes land governance prone to corruption – particularly in countries with weak governmental structures. In Africa, every second person reported that they have paid a bribe for land services (Transparency International 2013). It also means that people with less influence may likely fall prey to others who claim certain rights. For people like Edwin, however, land is a matter of survival and livelihood improvement. Land rights and land governance are at the core of rural development, including local food security and agriculture.

 

Given the complexity and the dynamics that come into play, one way to address this issue may be Multi-Actor Partnerships (MAP), an approach that the International Land Coalition, the German NGO Welthungerhilfe and African civil society partners, such as the Liberian NGO Rights and Rice Foundation, have been supporting for a couple of years. Those MAP engage all relevant actors into constructive and interactive dialogue based on human rights values, such as transparency and inclusiveness. Based on a joint analysis of the situation and on a commonly defined goal, these MAP have the potential to limit abuses, create a dignified environment and expand opportunities for all. Actors need to understand why Edwin has to hide food and why his children remain outside the school system.

Ich bin ein Alternativtext
Ma Sando Wilson is Edwin`s wife. © Land Rights Team/Welthungerhilfe

Given the existing power imbalances, particular attention must be given to the meaningful participation of legitimate civil society representatives in such fora.

 

An opportunity equally presents itself by regulating that farmers in Kinjor contribute a quota to a local development fund, so they can get a better training, buy added value items from dealers and receive additional training from their contributions.

 

For the past four and half years Liberia has been struggling to pass the land rights bill into law and fighting for a law that will support the decentralization of development planning, especially in terms of tenure rights for customary people. On 23 August 2018, the Liberian senate passed the land rights bill with modifications on the bill earlier passed by the lower house, in keeping with demands from the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), communities and other stakeholders about the previous 2017 bill. With this passage, the Senate and the house committees will now meet and ensure that the lower house concurs with what has been passed by the Senate, after which the bill will be forwarded to the president of Liberia for approval. However, the example of Edwin’s case illustrates the challenges to putting such a new bill into practice. If we actually want to end world hunger, local realities of Edwin and others must be carefully studied. Based on this, concrete actions are required to eliminate and reduce chances of a malpractice system that in fact caters only to the elites. For more than a century, Liberia has lived at the mercy of the elites which has received little attention from the world. This has resulted into open neglect, thereby forcing citizens to become corrupt themselves without considering that ultimately it is the entire nation that suffers and it is the citizens that will continue to pay the price.

 

Opening political spaces for socio-political dialogue would give Edwin and others the opportunity to speak out about his challenges. It is also an opportunity for the government to listen to the challenges that farmers are facing. Agribusiness can also render some basic judgement in terms of employment, services provided and conditions necessary for their investment. In this manner, dialogue fora can really evolve into Multi-Actor Partnerships based on a common vision of improved land governance that will serve and reconcile the interests of all.

 

BY: M. Sahr Nouwah & Rose Korleh, Land Rights Team, Liberia, 19 July 2018.

 

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