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Portrait de Rachael Knight


Community Land Protection

Thank you, Ruth, for this generous acknowledgement!

As Ruth mentioned, my colleagues and I have spent the past three years investigating how to best support communities to successfully complete formal land documentation procedures. The investigation was carried in partnership with the Land and Equity Movement in Uganda (LEMU), Centro Terra Viva (CTV) in Mozambique, and the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) in Liberia.

The study’s primary objectives were to:

1. Facilitate the documentation and protection of customarily held community lands through legally established community land titling processes;
2. Understand how to best and most efficiently support communities to successfully protect their lands. Specifically, determining the types and level of support required to support communities in these processes, and
3. Devise and pilot strategies to guard against intra-community injustice and discrimination during community land titling processes, and to protect the land interests of vulnerable groups.

Our most important finding is that community land protection processes may help communities do more than protect their lands: we found that the process helped communities to resolve long-standing land disputes that had fostered unrest in the region; improve local governance and establish mechanisms to hold leaders downwardly accountable; stimulate communities to conserve and sustainably manage natural resources; and strengthen the rights of women and other vulnerable groups.

We conclude that community land protection processes should combine three processes: the technical task of mapping and titling community lands, the peace-building task of land conflict resolution, and the governance task of strengthening local land administration and management.

Other main findings include:

1. Community land documentation is a more efficient method of land protection than family and individual titling, and should be prioritized over individual/family titling in the short term. As undertaken in this investigation, for a hypothetical community of 500 families and large common areas, registering the whole community at once would cost less than half of efforts to register individual or family lands.

2. The aim of a community land claim formalization process should not only be to obtain documentation, but also to stimulate community-wide, participatory discussions of how to best manage and govern community lands and natural resources. Community members reported that the process of drafting rules for land and natural resources management gave them the opportunity to publicly debate and evaluate community rules for the first time ever, and opened a space for them to argue against rules they felt to be discriminatory or advocate for rules that protect and promote their interests. The process also allowed communities to create new mechanisms to hold local leaders downwardly accountable and improve leadership, among other outcomes.

3. The process of harmonizing boundaries with neighbors unearthed every latent, unresolved land conflict – long dormant or festering for years – as well as created new boundary disputes that flared up in response to the impending documentation efforts. Yet while the potential for conflict was significant, communities’ desire to obtain documentation for their lands created a strong impetus for them to peacefully resolve long-running boundary disputes. To this end, communities adopted a wide range of conflict-resolution and compromise strategies, oftentimes settling decades-old land conflicts.

4. The community land documentation process provided an opportunity for women and other vulnerable groups to actively challenge discriminatory customary norms and practices and argue for the inclusion of stronger protections for their land and inheritance rights. Their efforts resulted in the strengthening of existing women‘s rights, the rejuvenation of customary norms that had existed in the past to protect 
women‘s land claims but have recently eroded or been abused; and the alignment of local rules with national laws that protect women’s land rights.

Because the community land documentation model works within the existing social structures of rural communities, but mandates that community rules do not contravene national law, it has the potential to shift customary practices to be more equitable and to ensure protections for women’s rights. Indeed, during the process of determining rules for the equitable management of community land, communities merged customary protections for women’s land rights with statutory protections in the body of their by-laws/constitutions. Most importantly, because the communities themselves decided upon the rules, they are now known to all, and local leaders can be held accountable to enforcing the rights now set out plainly in the community by-laws/constitutions

5. The community land documentation process has the potential to foster sustainable land and natural resources management and increased conservation. During the process of drafting their rules for land and natural resources management, communities created new rules and revived customary rues that function to conserve local natural resources. Evident also in the land and natural resources management plans is communities’ receptiveness to outside investment, but within a regulatory and participatory framework that ensures: the community is involved in discussing and negotiating all aspects of the investment; restrictions are made to ensure community health, environmental and cultural protections; benefits/fair compensation accrue to the community; and a contract is drafted to ensure that all community benefits are paid.

6. Paralegal support was found to be the optimal level of support for communities to progress most effectively through the community land documentation process. Cross-national statistical analysis of the study communities’ progress suggests that communities led by local, elected “paralegals” progressed farther through the community land documentation process than all other communities, including those communities given full legal support by lawyers and technical experts. This outcome may indicate that leaving communities with the responsibility of completing most project activities on their own motivated them to take the work more seriously, integrate and internalize the legal education and capacity-building training provided more thoroughly, address intra-community obstacles more proactively, and claim greater “ownership” over the community land documentation process than when the work is done for the community by outside lawyers and technicians.

7. Administrative or bureaucratic impediments linked to lack of necessary staffing and state resources, lack of political will, and other government obstacles were the greatest barriers to successful community land documentation. Due to administrative obstacles, not one community has yet received a title, deed or delimitation certificate.

For more information, please see our final international report, available for download at:http://www.namati.org/work/community-land-protection/phase-one-findings-and-reports/

Warm regards,



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