Rural land tenure reforms are often justified as a route to improving agricultural productivity and investment. Is there evidence that they do, and to what degree is formalization a worthy intervention for policymakers aiming to improve productivity in agriculture?
A recent systematic review, funded by DFID, addressed these questions, reviewing available literature on titling and other certification initiatives. Its findings reveal important differences in the impact of reforms, depending on where they occur.
Only 20 studies over the past 30 years met the strict inclusion criteria. Very few studies disaggregated positive effects on women, a clear gap in the available research on tenure reforms.
The results showed strong regional variations in the outcomes of tenure interventions. In Latin America and Asia, the studies show strongly positive gains to productivity ranging from 50-100% after tenure recognition, usually in the form of titling. In contrast, in Africa there were zero or modest gains to productivity ranging from 0-10%, and also weak impacts on investment and income.
Across all regions, there was no evidence of discernible credit effects – a significant finding since this is often a key reason for interventions in property rights.
Why would the impacts in Africa be different from Asia and Latin America? The study put forward three hypotheses for further testing through research. First, pre-existing customary institutions could mean that tenure insecurity was not the primary productivity constraint in Africa. Second, the muted impacts could be a wealth effect, in that African farmers are less able to improve investment into production due to constraints in access to inputs. Third, the absence of complementary public investments in infrastructure and services in Africa could explain the contrast with Latin America, where agrarian reform is approached as a package. Titling alone is likely insufficient to unleash greater productivity.
by Steve Lawry (@stevenlawry) and Ruth Hall (@RuthHallPLAAS)
This post first appeared on the PLAAS blog.