Understanding rural land markets in West Africa

Wednesday, 1st November 2017

Ibrahima KA, a researcher at IPAR, a sub-regional think tank based in Dakar, Senegal says West Africa must regulate rural land markets to protect the land rights of vulnerable families in rural communities.

Land access is highly crucial to improving living standards in West Africa. For many decades, families in rural communities of West Africa have relayed on lands for shelter and livelihood. But with the growing population (367 million in 2015, according to United Nations figures), and record demand for lands, how can the region guarantee land rights for people in rural areas? How can the region ensure that development is coordinated for the interest of poor families in communities? With saturated cities, large-scale acquisitions are moving to rural areas, translating into many families kicked off their lands and record land disputes. What can the region do to solve land markets moving to unregulated territories?

These issues, ILC member, IPAR-Initiative Prospective Agricole et Rurale, a think tank based in Dakar answers in a new study on rural land markets. The study titled “Regional Study on Rural Land Markets in West Africa and tools for regulation, “driven by IPAR is supported by the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA). This study completes a first study that focused on urban land. Both studies inform the Regional Observatory on Land in West Africa (ORFAO). Seydou Koudougou, Focal Point for Groupe de Recherche et d’Action sur le Foncier (GRAF), another ILC member also participated in the study. Seydou Koudougou reviewed the country profile for Burkina Faso.

In the research, IPAR studied prevailing rural land markets across eight countries in West Africa. It reviewed literature, scientific knowledge, legal frameworks of eight UEMOA countries and gathered quantitative data from four countries, two closer to Sahel and two along the coast. The study collected data in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal, coastal and Sahel countries. The study also sought to propose strategies and tools for regulating rural land markets. Agter, an international association based in France, assisted in the identification of tools and proposals for better regulation of rural land markets. Many regulatory experiments were researched citing examples in different countries around the world.

“Rural land markets are a reality and regulation is necessary to avoid adverse effects on vulnerable rural populations,” says Ibrahima Ka, researcher at IPAR. The study shows change of policies and societal norms, the introduction of land in the market economy and pressures on land are driving factors to people taking their lands to the marketplace.

With the high risks associated with acquisition in rural areas, relations between actors are often combustible, leading to growing litigations and conflicts.

To protect rural communities from dispossession and other violent acts, the report recommends the Monitory Union should among others, completely regulate the sector and set up mechanisms that enable closer monitoring of the situation or build the capacity of national land observatories.

Ibrahima’s hope is that ILC members draw lessons from the issues analysed in the study. He says the problems in West Africa featured in the study could be similar in other economic regions in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere in the world.

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