Compact Development Guidance

As of March 2013

Chapter 22: Guidelines for Countries Proposing Land Projects

This document offers guidance for countries proposing activities involving land tenure and property rights, land administration, or land policy and legislative reforms.


MCC anticipates that proposals will conform, in broad terms, to the following development scenario:  By strengthening land and property rights and offering more efficient services of registration, administration, adjudication and mediation, the country will strengthen tenure security and enable both male and female citizens, producers and investors to access land in transactions that are fair, cost-effective and transparent.  By giving its landholders enhanced, long term security, the country can expect them to become more productive users of land and more careful protectors of land and natural resources.  By removing obstacles and inefficiencies from the systems of land administration, the country can expect to benefit from increased investment and, assuming an otherwise favorable lending environment, availability of credit.      

Each country will propose activities taking into account its particular regimes of law, traditions of landholding and patterns of settlement, and contemporary problems of rural and urban development.  MCC assistance can be provided for four general categories of activities:

  • Specific activities for the improvement of land tenure security, such as the surveying and mapping of land parcels and recording of rights, and the issuance of titles or certificates that provide legal proof of land rights;
  • Specific activities intended to increase access to land by individuals and enterprises, such as the allocation or “privatization” of state or collective lands, the technological improvement of registries and land information systems, and the creation of simpler and less expensive procedures for land transactions;
  • Comprehensive programs, which combine the categories of tenure security and access to land and may also include activities of land policy, legislative and regulatory reform, such as in the area of helping to clarify women’s rights to land ownership and use; and 
  • Subsidiary activities of land allocation, survey and mapping, or land management that are linked to agricultural, infrastructure or urban development projects.     

Country Choice of Activities

The country should make a careful choice of the category that is most suitable for its present needs and its future development goals.  For each category a series of questions should be asked to determine its suitability.

Category 1. Activities intended to improve land tenure security are most often sought by countries that are experiencing conflict in land relations as a result of increasing population and density of settlement; over-exploitation of natural resources and diminishing quality or quantity of agricultural land; un-controlled urbanization; or under-investment in productive use of land and infrastructure.  Often in such conditions, the country recognizes that its traditional instruments of law, custom or administration are no longer capable of protecting the rights of land possession and occupancy.  Landholders fear arbitrary actions by the state and conflicting claims by neighbors and third parties.  In response to these problems, countries choose activities that will “formalize” the rights of landholders, demarcate the boundaries of parcels or tracts and issue to the landholders new documents with stronger legal status – titles, certificates, contracts, or administrative acts of land allocation.  These activities may also improve the procedures of registration, mediation and adjudication by reorganizing their administration and introducing advanced technologies of survey, mapping and land data management.  At the same time, formalization of landholders’ rights may lead to the exclusion of vulnerable groups and women from potential benefits in countries where land ownership is passed along the male line, where women’s land use and ownership rights are uncertain or legislation is unevenly enforced.  Projects should therefore take special care not to exacerbate any gender inequalities.

In some other countries, where land tenure is relatively secure, landholders and investors may nevertheless seek improved legal documentation and precise measurement of land parcels in order to access credit and carry out transactions more easily.  These countries may also undertake the same activities of “formalization” of rights and improved survey, mapping and registration.

The questions that should be asked in formulating a proposal under the category of improvement of land tenure security are the following:

  • How will the new instruments of landholding proof and accurate demarcation of parcels, tracts and territorial boundaries resolve the types of conflicts that arise? 
  • Will the activities involve systematic procedures of “formalization” of rights, carried out village-by-village or block-by-block, or will the new instruments of landholding proof be made available to landholders by individual request?
  • Will the methods of recording rights and offering documents of proof encompass all types of rights – superior rights of ownership or proprietorship and subordinate rights of temporary or long term use, occupancy, servitude, and mortgage?
  • Will methods of recording rights ensure that there is space for multiple names on land titles and will the certificates ensure the gender of the title holder is recorded?
  • How will the methods of recording rights affect existing gender norms around land use and land ownership?
  • Are the new instruments of landholding and improved procedures of registration already familiar to the citizens or do they require substantial changes from traditional practice and understanding?  If substantial changes are needed, what elements of public education and public participation will be needed to ensure that people will accept the new documents and procedures as legitimate and useful?     
  • Are the institutions responsible for the recording, registration and protection of landholder documents already functioning?  Will they need re-structuring, re-training and capacity building?  If new technologies are proposed, will they be appropriate and sustainable in the conditions of rural and urban development in the various regions of the country?  

Category 2. Activities intended to improve access to land and facilitate land transactions and credit are sought by countries, which recognize obstacles for investors in the potential growth sectors of the economy, and countries that hope to remedy an imbalance in landholding between the poor or disadvantaged and more powerful groups in society.  In these circumstances, countries may undertake activities of four kinds – (i) projects that offer specific lands for occupancy and use by chosen beneficiaries; (ii) projects that offer lands for settlement and use by the poor and landless; (iii) projects that “privatize” lands under state control and thus increase the total land supply available for producers and households; and (iv) changes in legal and administrative systems that will bring transparency and cost-savings in transactions and will stimulate land markets.  The pertinent questions for these activities of improved access to land are the following:

  • If the proposed activities will allocate lands to specific beneficiaries or re-distribute land rights to disadvantaged persons, are there clear criteria for eligibility and transparent procedures for the choice of beneficiaries?
  • What elements of public notice and public participation will be necessary to ensure that citizens recognize the procedures as fair and effective?
  • Are there sufficient supporting institutions and services of land administration and registration to carry out the land transfers and the future management of documents, information and transactions?
  • Do the beneficiaries of land access have the capacity and means to put the land to productive use, including access to market information, inputs and financing?
  • Which methods of analysis and measurement will be used to identify the elements of procedure or administration that are the key obstacles to transactions and investment?
  • Do the proposed activities, which will allocate or re-distribute land to specific beneficiaries, have the effect of reducing or limiting the use of land by others?  How will these impacts be measured and is compensation required? 

Category 3. Comprehensive reform programs often combine activities of land tenure security, land access and the reform of policy, legislation and regulation, and are usually sought by countries that are undergoing broad social, economic and political change.  Countries that are in post-colonial, post-communist and post- conflict stages, as well as other countries that have decided on substantial modification or modernization of their political systems and economies, have sought MCC assistance for comprehensive reform.  In formulating a comprehensive program, the following questions should be asked: 

  • Does the country have in place a coherent and widely-agreed policy, concept or “vision” in which the proposed land reforms have a defined role, or is the reform effort intended to discover, define and gain support for a new policy or vision?  
  • Will the new land policies, legal principles and institutions involve an abrupt change from the existing regimes of law and administration, an incremental or gradual re-adjustment, or a revival and modernization of historic principles and forms?  
  • Do the activities of land tenure security and land access being proposed appear to have a clear relationship to the policy goals and legislative changes, and is this relationship clearly explained?
  • How will the reform programs address issues of conflicting land rights legislation and potential uneven enforcement of women’s land rights (e.g. constitutions that guarantee equality but allow customary norms to trump these, which may discriminate against women)? 

Category 4. Land activities as part of other initiatives arise in proposed projects such as agricultural technology investment and farm enterprise re-structuring, installation of irrigation or drainage systems, road and transport investments, urban development, and the expansion of urban and peri-urban infrastructure.  The activities of land tenure security are included to fix the rights of the beneficiaries of the investments and ensure their sustainable use and maintenance.  Activities of land access may also be needed to resettle or compensate persons who are displaced or whose rights are affected by the project.  The following questions should be asked along with the relevant questions from Categories 1 and 2 above. 

  • Is there a clear and transparent method for identifying the beneficiaries, or the persons who need resettlement or compensation?
  • Do the land tenure or land access activities provide appropriate and equitable sharing of the burdens and benefits among male and female household members?

Necessary Content of all Country Proposals

In formulating its proposal for assistance, the country should include a definition of each problem that is being addressed, an explanation of why each problem is important, a description of the benefits to be realized as a result of carrying out the proposed activities with gender analysis included to clarify impact on male and female beneficiaries, a complete outline of the sequence of steps to address the problems (including reference to other related reform activities), the risks that may be encountered in implementation and the measures that are proposed to mitigate the risks.  Material should be included to respond to each of the following questions:

  • Have the approach and methods described in the proposal been used in earlier projects or programs in the country or elsewhere?  Does the proposal incorporate “lessons learned” from the earlier experiences?
  • Is there government and public support for the proposed activities?  How has this support been demonstrated?  If there is not a record of previous support or commitment, what measures are proposed to solicit and achieve support?
  • Do the government agencies and other organizations expected to carry out the proposed activities have sufficient capacity? Will they need additional personnel and resources, new equipment or improved technologies, staff training and up-grading of management skills?  What measures and actions are proposed for each of these elements?
  • If new technology systems are proposed, what factors explain their suitability and sustainability?
  • How will the rights of women and other vulnerable groups be affected by the activities that are proposed?  What are the characteristics of the “vulnerable” groups likely to be affected in areas where the project activities will take place?
  • Have conflicts over land been reported and analyzed as problems to be addressed by the proposed activities?  Are there other potential conflicts that may be anticipated such as those due to a lack of clarity in legislation over land ownership upon separation or divorce and regarding inheritance?  What elements of the proposed activities will address these conflicts?
  • What are the estimated costs of each element of the proposed activities?  What research or measurements have been taken to substantiate these costs?
  • Can the proposed activities be designed, initiated and completed in the five year period of an MCC compact?  
  • What programs are other donors currently funded, or planning to fund?