To protect private property effectively, rights must be clearly defined. In Côte d’Ivoire, only four percent of all rural land is legally registered, which leaves virtually all of the non-urban population vulnerable to disputes. Part of the challenge lies in the prohibitive costs associated with engaging the formal system. For example, even small farming parcels (around two hectares) require about one year’s worth of income in fees for the average Ivorian to register their land, an investment made all the more unattractive when you consider the mismatch between informal agreements and the formal system. As a result, most landowners operate only under a weak informal system using handwritten claims or oral agreements.
Audace Institut Afrique (AIA), an Atlas Network partner organization based in Côte d’Ivoire’s economic capital of Abidjan, has taken on the important task of transitioning those informal systems to formal registration and adjudication with its “Rural Land Project” (Acteur Communau’Terre). Beginning in 2016, the project has organized and trained four different village committees to develop authentic and reliable land registers mapping out all private land in each village and noting the rightful owners. Using local knowledge, the village committees register the land with the Ivorian government, strengthening the villager’s investment in this formal title. The project is serving as a model for the Ivorian government to replicate nationwide.
“Acteur Communau’Terre aims at helping villages to create village mapping and community land registries,” said Gisèle Dutheuil, director of AIA. “These registries [help] to clarify villagers’ rights before funding their property titles. This registry is a credible basis to get loans and reduces risks related to an agricultural investment. It is a freedom and prosperity tool that helps to easily resolve and reduce conflicts. It is a solution for the 96 percent of lands which are not yet registered in Cote d’Ivoire.”
In addition, Côte d’Ivoire’s constitution prohibits foreigners from owning land. The goals of AIA’s Rural Land Project are to secure the property rights of Ivorian villagers and to secure rental contracts for Ivorians and non-Ivorians alike. AIA believes that doing so will reduce many existing conflicts and create a more favourable environment for investment.
After delving into the lineages of the families living in each village and reconstructing their social and legal landscapes, AIA uses GPS and other resources demarcate boundaries of different plots of land including both geographical and sociological data. These registries are then published digitally and physically, providing accessibility to those lacking access to electricity. The information contained in the registries AIA has created helps secure contracts and is referenced frequently during leasing and sales of land.
“This program, possible thanks to the help of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and Atlas Network, gives concrete meaning to the idea of bottom-up development,” continued Dutheuil. “After one year of work in pilot villages, we realized that it is possible to improve land governance by relying on local skills. For instance, in each pilot village, young villagers now know how to use GPS and demarcate parcels. It helps [teach] everyone about their rights.”
AIA’s work respects long-held cultural values, habits, and customs, and it believes that doing so can help provide the impetus for sound development. Because of this approach, AIA made a special effort to demonstrate that their project is not in conflict with the traditional values of the people of Côte d’Ivoire. For example, AIA partnered with the National Chamber of Kings & Traditional Chiefs to bridge the gap between tradition and modern life. AIA successfully explained to the Chamber that becoming a part of the globalized world does not mean that their traditional culture cannot also be preserved. The support of the Chamber has lent credibility to the project and has been crucial to its success.
“In Cote d’Ivoire, as in most African countries, the cadastre [comprehensive register of real estate] does not exist at the national level,” continued Dutheuil. “Land ownership is based on the knowledge of village chiefs and land chiefs, they are living cadastres. However, as they get older, it is really urgent to save this knowledge in a land registry.”
Acteur Communau’Terre is a six-year program, and its flexibility allows it to adapt to changes from village to village. AIA presented its results from the first year of the pilot project during a national meeting on securing rural land rights in September 2017, and Côte d’Ivoire’s government is now considering land policy reform that would expand on AIA’s model, creating land registers in every village in the country. Village chiefs from the pilot villages were able to testify before the administration that the bottom-up development driven by AIA is working. And they’re not the only ones taking notice – the World Bank has been closely following AIA’s Rural Land Project.
“The field experience of Acteur Communau’Terre program is participating [in] the new $50 million program implemented by the World Bank in Côte d’Ivoire,” continued Dutheuil. “Acteur Communau’Terre’s methodology is used as the basis for the development of the national rural land project of the World Bank.” In the proposed Côte d’Ivoire Land Policy Improvement and Implementation Project, the World Bank recommends a program to strengthen the Ivorian government’s capacity to implement its national rural land tenure program at the national level and to improve the land use and property rights registration system in selected rural areas – drawing heavily from AIA’s methodology.
Component 1 of the World Bank’s proposed activities in the project includes support for civil society organizations – like AIA – already involved in the land sector to monitor and evaluate land registration activities in the field and to conduct informed advocacy. It also includes the provision to build local land administration capacities by “establishing and/or strengthening Village Land Tenure Committees (Comités Villageois de Gestion Foncière Rurale, CVGFRs) and Rural Land Tenure Committees (Commissions de Gestion Foncière Rurale, CGFRs) and local customary authorities and developing their capacity to support the archiving, improvement, and standardization of local land tenure documentation.”
“Indeed, either the World Bank or the government agree that it will be difficult to use the constructivist way (top-down) in African context,” concluded Dutheuil. “Rather, it is very important to work firstly with communities through the local old witness’ knowledge, to tell the story of the village in order to identify everyone’s rights. It is also important to train village communities for a sustainable management of the village. The World Bank and the government have understood through our program that it is very important to start by this step of local rights clarification, before the step of saving in a national cadastre to reduce sustainably conflicts and preserve social cohesion. It is the real interest of the bottom-up model that we were able to show at a national level.”
AIA’s smart approach combines tradition and modernity, customs and certification. It is a testament to the potential of locally grown and locally implemented solutions to local challenges.