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Involve private sector as it has more resources

Dr Gregory Myers, Director, Land Tenure & Property Rights Division, USAID
Dr Gregory Myers
Land Tenure & Property Rights Division, USAID

Geospatial technology will help capture the potential private sector investment in the land governance sector, says Dr Gregory Myers, Director, Land Tenure & Property Rights Division, USAID

Formal registration accounts to just about 20% of total land transactions in developing countries, according to an estimate. This is a severe loss of tax revenue to the government. What do you think are the reasons?
There are a number of reasons for low levels of registration and transactions and some are historical. People in countries such as Mozambique, Ghana and Burkina Faso had access to land during the colonial period when formalisation was introduced. During this period, agricultural producers had pieces of land, but they were never part of the formal system. Also, governments did not recognise the property rights of many people; so from a legal perspective, they had de facto land rights. It was a costly affair for a farmer to go to the city and formally register his land or record his rights. It required some kind of incentive that is cost effective and efficient which motivated them to enter the formal system.

The other part of the problem is governance. If the government does not enforce or uphold the law, even persons with formal rights are at a loss. Because of this, many people choose to operate outside the formal system.

Globally, land reform initiatives are currently operative in just about 50 countries. What initiatives is USAID taking in creating awareness among the governments? Where are we lacking in implementation of these reforms?
In a broader context, the numbers are actually much higher for where the global community is working towards improving land governance or land tenure systems. The US government alone has around 40 programmes in 32 countries.

The way in which these initiatives are implemented is also changing, as it is becoming more user-driven. Countries now know their land tenure needs and demand the changes required to reform tenure systems. Some countries even want to approach the private sector for assistance. On one hand we have a huge demand, which is good, but on the other hand we do not have that many resources to fulfil the demand. We can bridge this gap between demand and supply by accessing the right resources and becoming much smarter about the way in which we address problems. We have to be more strategic about what we do; innovation technology can help. Also, the private sector should be involved as they have more resources to address the problems.

How is USAID mandating the use of geospatial technology in its projects?
USAID uses many different types of technologies, including geospatial technology, to change governance systems cheaply and quickly. We also use new technologies to innovate and speed up land governance processes, because it is not feasible to wait for another 10-20 years to record property rights using conventional methods. Technology is helping USAID, and the countries in which we work, catch up with demand. Also, geospatial technology will help capture the potential private sector investment in the land governance sector.

There are instances where the World Bank or USAID successfully do a pilot project in a country and trains the personnel. But after the project is complete, the local offi- cials fail to scale the project or implement it successfully. How is USAID ensuring continuity of successful project models?
We try to avoid instances such as the one you describe. While implementing a project, we involve the government as well as all the stakeholders, so that countries develop their own requirements for donors to support. That way, there is local buy-in from the beginning. If this is not happening then the project is not successful during and after implementation.

It is important to have buy-in of all the stakeholders involved and the biggest buy-in one is the government to enable it to create a right kind of policy framework. How does USAID enable such kind of environment?
Our work on land tenure issues at USAID is demand driven and that demand varies from country to country. Sometimes the demand comes from the government that puts forward their policy requirements. In other countries, citizens and local businesses ask the government to do certain things which drives the process and is more democratic in nature. USAID also focuses its programmes on providing the right kind of technical input. For example, if someone understands the situation but cannot provide the right kind of guidance on what a good land policy or land law looks like, then it is less effective.

What according to you are the major challenges in creating and implementing a formal land tenure system, especially in developing countries? What are your recommendations to these challenges?
A formal land tenure system cannot be created unless there is an incentive for one. This incentive can come from civil society, which requests a change, or from the government, when it realises that there is a problem. The biggest challenge in creating and implementing a formal land tenure system is recognising and determining which incentives to use in order to make effective changes. Also, the implementation of a formal land tenure system must be cost effective. Governments cannot carry forward projects which are expensive and labour intensive, particularly if they do not have the financial resources necessary.