Nicaragua’s tumultuous political history reflects the dramatic impacts that differing perspectives on property rights and resource governance can have on the structure and performance of societies and economies. The Somoza regimes that governed Nicaragua from 1936 to 1979 emphasized the primacy of private property rights and the pursuit of an export market-oriented, large-scale commercial agriculture. These policies resulted in an economy in which rural land ownership was concentrated in the hands of relatively few Nicaraguans who operated farms producing coffee, cotton, sugar, tobacco, and beef for export, largely to the United States. This success, however, was accompanied by high rates of rural landlessness, low productivity in the small-farm food sector, and the emergence of stark inequalities of income and opportunity within the Nicaraguan population. The Sandinista government (1979–1990) reversed these policies, expropriating large landowners’ property for redistribution to cooperatives and smallholders and for use as state farms oriented toward food production for domestic markets. This move toward national self-sufficiency – combined with a reorientation of trade patterns toward Eastern Europe, Cuba, and other socialist countries – was more inclusive but did not provide a path to more equitable prosperity. Incomes declined and poverty levels climbed throughout the 1980s. During its seven- year tenure (1990–1997), the democratically elected government of Violeta Chamorro attempted to chart a middle path by adopting policies that protected the rights of land reform beneficiaries while also recognizing the rights of the landowners dispossessed by the reforms. These competing policies resulted in a plethora of competing claims, undermined land tenure security, and limited much-needed investment in the agriculture sector.

Successive Nicaraguan governments have made efforts to strike the appropriate balance between (1) promoting greater investment in economic growth through private ownership and management of property, especially agricultural lands; and (2) realizing greater social justice, including provision of more equitable and secure access to land by the poor and vulnerable. Some progress has been made. However, Nicaragua remains a highly inequitable lower middle-income economy, with the lowest 20% of the population holding less than 4% of national income and 39% of rural households estimated to be landless. Poverty is largely a rural phenomenon, with two-thirds of the rural population living below the poverty line.

External support is critical to both the Government of Nicaragua (GON) and to the prospects of poor, rural Nicaraguans, especially those indigenous groups living in the thinly settled and remote areas of the Atlantic coastal region. Donors provided an average of 18% of Nicaragua’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as official development assistance from 2000–2008, down from a high of 72% in 1991. This official development assistance constitutes a significant share of the government’s budgets in key sectors, including water, environmental protection, and health. External support also comes through private channels. Remittances from Nicaraguans living abroad, largely in Costa Rice and the US, are estimated to supplement the incomes of 40% of Nicaraguan households, with over US $1 billion flowing into the country in 2008. In addition, the US-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) provides expanded opportunities for Nicaragua to export agricultural, fisheries, and manufactured products to the United States.

Donor governments and international financial institutions have explicitly supported continued strengthening of the property rights systems in Nicaragua, funding several projects for land administration, titling, and the regularization of documents regarding land rights over the last two decades. The process is slow, however, and most Nicaraguans still lack clear tenure rights. Donors and international environmental organizations have also contributed to conservation of the forest and biodiversity resources of Nicaragua with substantial funding and have worked to ensure the rights of indigenous groups in the Atlantic coastal region. Disaster recovery assistance has also been provided, particularly after Hurricanes Mitch and Felix.

With such support, Nicaragua’s economy has made slow but fairly steady progress since the late 1990s. Analysts point out, though, that Nicaragua can only increase its economic competitiveness – and jobs and incomes for the poor – if the government directs greater attention to agricultural modernization and the resolution of continued uncertainties regarding land. And others note that the unique and extensive environmental resources of Nicaragua – its forest resources, in particular – may be irreversibly threatened by illegal logging and unsustainable uses for agriculture and ranching. Mining operations in some areas have also resulted in deforestation and in water contamination.

National and local leadership face the challenge of developing a vision for Nicaragua’s future that is shared by the majority of the population, provides for their inclusion in the economy, and also generates a path of economic progress sufficient to pull them out of poverty. There is broad consensus that more secure rights to land and water, sustainable approaches to utilization of Nicaragua’s abundant natural resources, and a structure of democratic governance that ensures fair and equitable outcomes for the population as a whole are all needed to realize this vision. Donors and international organizations can help to support this vision, but only the political leaders of Nicaragua can develop the policies and institutions that will make its achievement possible. 

Source of the narrative

Disclaimer: The data displayed on the Land Portal is provided by third parties indicated as the data source or as the data provider. The Land Portal team is constantly working to ensure the highest possible standard of data quality and accuracy, yet the data is by its nature approximate and will contain some inaccuracies. The data may contain errors introduced by the data provider(s) and/or by the Land Portal team. In addition, this page allows you to compare data from different sources, but not all indicators are necessarily statistically comparable. The Land Portal Foundation (A) expressly disclaims the accuracy, adequacy, or completeness of any data and (B) shall not be liable for any errors, omissions or other defects in, delays or interruptions in such data, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. Neither the Land Portal Foundation nor any of its data providers will be liable for any damages relating to your use of the data provided herein.


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Land Governance Assessment Framework (LGAF)

Please, select year and panels to show the info.

    • Very Good Practice
    • Good Practice
    • Weak Practice
    • Very Weak Practice
    • Missing Value

    Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure

    Legend: National laws adoption of the VGGT principle
    • Fully adopt
    • Partially adopt
    • Not adopted
    • Missing Value

    Note: The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (The VGGTs) were endorsed by the Committee on World Food Security in 2012.

    The "VGGT indicators" dataset has been created by Nicholas K. Tagliarino, PhD Candidate at the University of Groningen, with support from Daniel Babare and Myat Noe (LLB Students, University of Groningen). The indicators assess national laws in 50 countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America against international standards on expropriation, compensation, and resettlement as established by Section 16 of the VGGTs.

    Each indicator relates to a principle established in section 16 of the VGGTs. Hold the mouse against the small "i" button above for a more detailed explanation of the indicator.

    Answering the questions posed by these indicators entails analyzing a broad range of national-level laws, including national constitutions, land acquisition acts, land acts, community land acts, agricultural land acts, land use regulations, and some court decisions.


    Latest News

    24 March 2017
    • Only 30% of the world’s population has a legally registered title to their land.
    • As discussed at the Land and Poverty Conference 2017, secure land rights are important for reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity at the country, community, and family levels.
    • The World Bank supports countries to secure land rights for their populations, especially women, Indigenous Peoples, and other vulnerable groups.

    27 January 2017

    By:Malva Izquierdo

    Date: 27 January 2017

    Source: Reuters

    Three decades after Nicaragua launched the first of many reforms aimed at giving women equal land rights, experts say rural women remain exploited and open to disinheritance, violence and abuse.

    Many women are locked out of land - first by a father then by a husband - while others say they are treated worse than the animals they tend. Yet all this was supposed to end decades ago.


    From the Nicaragua Center for Community Action (Nicca)

    Date: 25 September 2016

    Source: Havana Times


    The Rama-Kriol peoples, a small, indigenous group living on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, are among some of the most vulnerable people in the world. They live in fear of loss of their land and cultural identity and of an uncertain future because they are in the path of a proposed mega-project—the Nicaragua Trans-Oceanic Canal, a potential environmental and economic disaster.

    Burkina Faso
    Latin America and the Caribbean
    South Sudan
    United States of America

    By: Paola Totaro
    Date: August 9th 2016
    Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation

    Latest Blog



    Displaying 1 - 6 of 257
    Reports & Research
    June 2017

    Es una realidad que hay contradicciones en cuanto al manejo y la tenencia de la tierra en América Latina, siendo una situación importante que impacta en las economías locales y en la vida de millones de personas. Aunque en las últimas dos décadas la mayoría de los países latinoamericanos han implementado en su legislación medidas para promover el acceso y derecho de la mujer a la tierra, siguen existiendo limitaciones que no han permitido un mayor avance hacia la equidad en la distribución de la tierra.

    Journal Articles & Books
    May 2017

    A growing body of evidence suggests that criminal activities associated with drug trafficking networks are a progressively important driver of forest loss in Central America. However, the scale at which drug trafficking represents a driver of forest loss is not presently known. We estimated the degree to which narcotics trafficking may contribute to forest loss using an unsupervised spatial clustering of 15 spatial and temporal forest loss patch metrics developed from global forest change data.

    April 2017
    Tres comunidades del pueblo indígena Mozonte y una comunidad del pueblo indígena Telpaneca implementaron planes de innovación orientados a mejorar la situación de la tenencia de la tierra, concebidos y facilitados por la Unión Nacional de Agricultores y Ganaderos (UNAG).
    Organización: ILC, Procasur, Unag
    Securing Forest Tenure Rights for Rural Development: Lessons from Six Countries in Latin America cover image
    Journal Articles & Books
    March 2017

    Secure land tenure in rural landscapes is widely recognized as an essential foundation for achieving a range of economic development goals. However, forest areas in low and middle-income countries face particular challenges in strengthening the security of land and resource tenure. Forest peoples are often among the poorest and most politically marginalized communities in their national contexts, and their tenure systems are often based on customary, collective rights that have insufficient formal legal protection.

    Institutional & promotional materials
    December 2016

    Afectación en las cosechas por el cambio climático, falta de tierra, costos de producción, y los altos costos del alquiler y venta de tierra, son algunas de las limitantes que identificaron las mujeres rurales en un Encuentro de Organizaciones por el acceso a la tierra celebrado en Condega.

    Journal Articles & Books
    December 2016

    Lisseth Escalante es dueña de una manzana de tierra en San Juan de las Pencas, Chinandega. En su terreno siembra por temporadas maíz, ajonjolí y sorgo, pero no fue sino hasta hace un año cuando su madre le heredara en vida que este acceso a la tierra se hizo una realidad. “Antes me tocaba sembrar a medias con ella o si no se podía, tenía que alquilar”, cuenta.