Using tradition and technology to settle land disputes
To protect private property effectively, rights must be clearly defined. In Côte d’Ivoire, only 4% of all rural land is legally registered, which leaves virtually all of the non-urban population vulnerable to disputes over ownership. Part of the challenge lies in the prohibitive costs associated with engaging the formal system. For example, even small farming parcels (around two hectares or five acres) 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).
The power of local knowledge
Beginning in 2016 and aided by US$26,000 in funding from Atlas Network, 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% of lands which are not yet registered in Côte d’Ivoire.”
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 to 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 or the internet. 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.”
Respecting communities and traditions
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 and 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 Côte 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.
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.