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Literature Review of Land Tenure in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali: Context and Opportunities

Literature Review of Land Tenure in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali: Context and Opportunities   

This paper describes options for engaging with the complex issue of land tenure as it relates to broader social, economic, and environmental resilience in the Sahel regions of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali.

The paper gives special attention to vulnerable groups such as women and pastoralists.

The project is part of the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) program funded by DFID.

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Executive summary

This paper seeks to lay out options for engaging with the complex issue of land tenure as it relates to broader social, economic, and environmental resilience in the Sahel regions of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali. Particular focus is given to vulnerable groups such as women and pastoralists and to interventions that would ensure that these groups are not disproportionately impacted by the pressures on land and climactic change that threaten tenure security in the region today.

A review of existing statutory and customary land tenure systems in the three countries reveals broad similarities. Customary tenure systems continue to predominate, especially in rural areas, in spite of statutory efforts to ‘modernize’ the tenure landscape in recent decades. Efforts to devolve land management responsibilities to local institutions have not been wholly effective, as local administrative bodies often lack the resources and capacity to realize the provisions of land legislation. In this context, the clash of traditional and modern systems can cause long-term uncertainty, result in conflicts over resources, and undermine land tenure security for rural communities. Two groups are especially vulnerable to tenure insecurity: women and pastoralists.

Women suffer disproportionately as a result of long-standing practices in which they are routinely disadvantaged in land inheritance. In the few cases where customary practice has allowed for women’s access to land, moreover, increasing pressures on land are combining to erode this access. Pastoralists, meanwhile, are often excluded from local decision-making bodies, leaving them politically disadvantaged in newly devised means for negotiating land use. Decreased land availability is limiting grazing areas available to transhumant and nomadic herders, leading to a rise in resource conflicts and eroding the traditional systems of negotiation that have provided for movement of herds – the critical factor in enabling pastoralist resilience to long-term climate change and weather events such as droughts.

Interventions that have sought to address these challenges have employed a variety of approaches. The lessons they offer are not always intuitive. Efforts to seek full land ownership titles are not common, reflecting the prevailing legal frameworks. Instead, projects have focused on aligning customary and statutory systems through registration of customary rights. Even where this is advocated, prospective projects are advised to remain flexible in how customary practices are captured, allowing for variety of local conventions and norms rather than trying to ‘fit’ existing practices to modern statutory categories.

Women’s land tenure security has not been successfully transformed in many cases, which reflects deeply rooted social and cultural opposition to the idea of women’s equality in land tenure. Of the many programs that tried to address this problem, Mali’s Alatona Irrigation Project was probably the most successful. This project opened women’s access to limited titling to irrigated plots, promoted joint titling for farming households, and allocated shared lands to women’s organizations.

Another finding is that making water access points open access resources does not necessarily benefit pastoralist mobility, but in fact is more likely to lead to environmental degradation through over-intensive grazing. Pastoralists’ access to land is best conceived of through the lens of water access, negotiated through traditional ‘home area’ grazing privileges between herder groups and sedentary farming communities.

The review suggests that there are few ‘quick wins’ in land tenure for the Sahel region. Instead, progress may better be achieved through process-oriented interventions that focus on fostering local dialogues: implementing conflict resolution mechanisms, developing local land use charters through participatory approaches, and engaging women and men in discussions on the gender dimensions of land ownership and access. These approaches, coupled with capacity building of local decentralized institutions, would lay the groundwork for long-term transformations of the realities of land tenure for the Sahel’s communities.


Executive Summary 1
List of Acronyms 3
Assessment Objectives 5
Introduction 6
Methodology 8
Findings 9
Conclusion: Opportunities for Intervention 46
Recommendations 50
Bibliography 51


Publication details

Author: Oliver Hughes
Publisher: Catholic Relief Services (September 2014)
Paper: 56 pages
Language: English
Dimensions: 8.5 x 11 inches

Posted on September 22, 2014

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