In developing countries around the world, land and natural resources lie at the heart of social, political and economic life. In much of Africa, however, rural farmers and communities lack secure property rights. Many are losing their land to government, investors and others outside the community—often with profound adverse impacts on local livelihoods and the environment.

WRI’s Land and Resource Rights project produced a series of videos that highlight challenges farmers in Africa face from insecure property rights, as well as measures they (and their governments) can take to protect their lands, their communities and their well-being. Here’s an overview of some of the important issues associated with land and resource rights:

1) Limited Property Rights:

Governments across Africa have the power to limit how farmers use their land, such as restrictions on farming on steep slopes or on the banks of waterways. While it is important to protect the environment, such restrictions can also have serious consequences on local economies. A Farmer in Africa: Limiting Property Rights tells the story of a community in Sub-Saharan Africa that faces land-use restrictions, and what the villagers and the government can do to safeguard rural livelihoods.

2) Overlapping Resource and Land Rights

In Africa, legal rights to land do not commonly include the rights to any of the natural resources on or below the land, such as minerals, oil, water, trees and wildlife. In many cases, governments grant foreign investors the rights to extract minerals under community land, which can undermine local agricultural practices and other important economic activities. A Farmer in Africa: Overlapping Property Rights explores what can happen when extractive resource companies are given the rights to mine on community lands, and presents options for protecting local people and ensuring their welfare.

3) Balancing Property Rights with National Needs

All governments have the power to take privately held land for public interest purposes, a concept known as eminent domain. But the need to pursue public interests must be balanced by the need to protect property rights. A Farmer in Africa: Balancing Property Rights with National Needs illustrates the story of a small village in rural Africa threatened when the government acquires community land and then allocates it to a foreign company to grow crops for export. Although the government’s intention is to promote national economic development, this story illustrates the long-term hardships that many rural communities face from displacement.

4) Securing Property Rights

In many African countries, farmers, families and communities have opportunities to secure their rights and protect their lands. Communities can map their lands, demarcate their boundaries and file for a deed or title. A Farmer in Africa: Securing Property Rights tells the story of Emmanuel, a traditional village leader, who obtains a certificate of customary ownership over the community’s land. The certificate can make it harder for the government or an investor to acquire his land without due process or paying proper compensation. When communities hold clear rights to their land, they are often in a better position to resist external threats and protect their land.


  • LEARN MORE: WRI works with governments, civil society, businesses, and other stakeholders to strengthen land and natural resource rights for poor people and rural communities. Check out our Land and Resource Rights project.