'MCC: Reducing Poverty and Promoting Economic Growth through Land Tenure and Property Rights'

Thank you, Matt.
Habitat for Humanity International Chairman Ron Terwilliger,
Friends of MCC,
thank you for being here.

It is a privilege to join you all here today for this discussion on how best to provide the world’s poor with secure tenure to their homes and land.  It is important that we are spotlighting this critical and timely issue as it is a core element of any strategy to reduce poverty through sustainable economic growth.

Americans have always understood the importance of home ownership, even more so in today’s economic climate.  It is part of the American psyche and dream.  American families realize that a fundamental source of wealth creation comes from our ability to own our own homes, our own property.  Yet, in so many poor corners of the world, this dream remains elusive.  Let me discuss with you today the housing crisis no one is talking about.  Protecting the property rights of the poor is a fundamental priority for achieving economic growth and sustainable development if we are serious about making a meaningful difference in the fight against global poverty.

With the tremendous unease and uncertainty caused by the global financial crisis, we are reminded how fragile and how interconnected prosperity is and how there’s perhaps nothing more elemental and nothing more reassuring than to have a place—a safe and secure place—to call home.

  • We understand this reality at the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
  • Our partner countries worldwide also understand this reality.
  • Mission-driven organizations like Habitat for Humanity understand this reality as well, and I am particularly grateful for Habitat’s strong leadership and guiding support in spotlighting the issue of secure land tenure and working with us to make today’s conversation possible.  Many thanks to you, Ron, and your outstanding team at Habitat for partnering with us.


MCC and Land Security

At the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the U.S. Government’s newest and most innovative development assistance agency, we partner with some of the world’s poorest countries to help them achieve the development priorities they themselves define as vital for their growth.  What we have found is that our partners identify secure and efficient access to land among their top goals for their long-term economic growth and poverty reduction.  As a result, our partners are investing their MCC grants in ways that promote

  • improved legal frameworks,
  • more client service-oriented property registries,
  • and formal recording of land rights in selected communities.
  • We see this in Madagascar, where comprehensive legal reforms are being instituted related to land tenure and to modernizing national and regional land services.  Newly-established municipal land registration offices are formalizing the land rights of local farmers by issuing land ownership certificates.

I will never forget the Malagasy woman I met during one my trips to Madagascar who clutched the land title I had the good fortune of presenting to her as she proclaimed with great pride and optimism: “And, no man will take this away from me!” That sense of empowerment—conveyed through a piece of paper as simple as a land title—has remained with me and reminds me often of how important secure land tenure is to poverty reduction and economic growth.

  • We see this in Burkina Faso and Ghana, where significant land tenure reforms are underway that include working through judicial and mediation services to reduce conflicts over land rights.
  • We see this in Mozambique and Benin, where steps are being taken to register both rural and urban communal and individual land rights.
  • We see this in Nicaragua, where reforms are improving the formal documentation of property rights, including the rights of women.
  • We see this in Lesotho and Mongolia, where revised land legislation and improvements to registration processes will provide greater security for the rights of urban households.
  • And, we see this in El Salvador, where the government is using its resources to further progress on land titling and registration to leverage and complement the impact of MCC’s investments in roads and productive sectors.

Why land tenure matters

In all these ways—ways that total over $278 million in investments in country-determined and country-driven strategies—MCC is happy to be helping make a tangible difference in strengthening the real property rights systems in countries from Africa to Eurasia to Latin America.  And, this difference matters for a number of reasons.

It matters for economic reasons. Farmers, households, and businesses are more willing to protect and invest in land or property they own.  Secure tenure is a critical ingredient for

  • accessing credit,
  • promoting investment and private sector activities,
  • and generating self-sustaining market opportunities for economic growth.

It matters for community development. Secure rights to property

  • use,
  • ownership,
  • and transfer

empower communities to demand basic services from their governments, like

  • electricity,
  • water,
  • and sanitation.

It matters to women.  Secure tenure for women—who disproportionately shoulder the excruciating burden of poverty—creates a powerful safety net that protects them and their children.

It matters for good governance. Secure tenure is a pillar of effective and transparent property rights systems, that are grounded in the rule of law and that benefit all segments of society.


As so many struggle with maintaining their homes, for the world’s poorest, a secure place of their own is

  • their only means for shelter,
  • their only means for a livelihood,
  • their only means for a brighter future of promise.

At MCC, we are committed to ensuring that secure land tenure is a viable pathway—not a roadblock—in a country’s journey toward sustainable growth.  We see this in the thousands of families whose land rights have been recorded or registered already and in the significant land policy reforms already underway because of how countries are investing their MCC grants.  This is a journey MCC partners have embarked upon; and MCC investments support their strategic development objectives in this vital area.

It is a journey that our friends at Habitat for Humanity continue to highlight by raising awareness about secure tenure and advocating actions that will strengthen land policies and property rights for the poor’s benefit. Like Habitat, so many other active partners throughout the development community are underscoring the importance of this issue, and their collective voice is one we need and welcome to make a difference.

Together, we can make sustainable headway in the fight against global poverty by placing secure land and property tenure on our agenda for the world’s poor.  Now is the time to do more than just understand the inextricable link between secure tenure and poverty; now is the time to implement the solutions offered by secure tenure to achieve our shared vision for a world where prosperity replaces poverty, where hope overcomes despair.

Thank you for your participation here today, and for heeding the call to secure prosperity and hope for the world’s poor by securing their property rights.  With partners like Habitat for Humanity and countries committed to progress worldwide, the Millennium Challenge Corporation will continue to answer this call as a central part of fulfilling our mission to reduce poverty through sustainable economic growth.

Thank you.