Africa’s Unused Land Can Be Developed To Boost Growth

Jim Yong KimAfrica has not been able to develop its unused tracts of land, estimated at more than 202 million hectares, to dramatically reduce poverty and boost growth, jobs, and shared prosperity, a new World Bank report has said.

The world’s uncultivated land, which is suited for growing food crops comprise as many as 450 million hectares that are not forested, protected or densely populated.

According to the report, “Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity,” African countries and their communities could effectively end ‘land grabs,’ grow significantly more food across the region, and transform their development prospects if they can modernise the complex governance procedures that govern land ownership and management over the next decade.

Africa, the World Bank said, has the highest poverty rate in the world with 47.5 per cent of the population living below US $1.25 a day.
“Despite abundant land and mineral wealth, Africa remains poor,” said Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for Africa.

He said: “Improving land governance is vital for achieving rapid economic growth and translating it into significantly less poverty and more opportunity for Africans, including women who make up 70 per cent of Africa’s farmers, yet are locked out of land ownership due to customary laws.

The status quo is unacceptable and must change so that all Africans can benefit from their land.”
The report noted that more than 90 per cent of Africa’s rural land was undocumented, making it highly vulnerable to land grabbing and expropriation with poor compensation.

However, based on encouraging evidence from country pilots in African countries such as Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda, the report suggested an action plan that could help revolutionize agricultural production, end land grabbing, and eradicate extreme poverty in Africa.

The World Bank suggested that Africa could finally realise the vast development promise of its land over the course of the next decade by championing reforms and investments to document all communal lands and prime lands that are individually owned, and regularise tenure rights of squatters on public land in urban slums that are home to 60 per cent of urban dwellers in Africa.

Tackling the weak governance and corruption endemic to the land governance system in many African countries which often favour the status quo and harm the interests of poor people, and generating the political will of African governments to mobilise behind these land reforms and attract the political and financial buy-in of the international development community, are also key to the continent’s development agenda.

The new report said it would cost African countries and their development partners, including the private sector, US $4.5 billion spread over 10 years to scale up these policy reforms and investments.

“Improving the performance and productivity of Africa’s agricultural sector is vital for broad-based growth, more jobs, investment, and substantially less poverty,” said Jamal Saghir, World Bank Director for Sustainable Development in Africa.

“Land governance is a proven pathway to achieving transformational change and impact that will help secure Africa’s future for the benefit of all its families,” he added.

Surging food commodity prices and foreign direct investment have increased the potential return on investing in effective land administration through higher agricultural yields and better market access and prices.

Most African countries, according to the World Bank, already have the basic land laws in place that recognise customary land rights and gender equality which are essential to reinforce needed reforms.

In addition, new satellite and information technologies could greatly reduce the cost of land administration.  “A growing number of African countries are now using these technologies to reduce the costs of surveying and mapping land and computerising their land registries to improve efficiency and reduce corruption,” the report said..

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