Submissions Accepted for Presentation at the World Bank Land Conference 2024

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Session Overview
01-07: Demand for and potential impact of land titling in Africa
Wednesday, 15/May/2024:
1:30pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Arianna Legovini, World Bank, United States of America
Location: MC 13-121

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Fallow Lengths and the Structure of Property Rights

Etienne LeRossignol1, Sara Lowes2, Eduardo Montero3

1Université de Namur; 2University of California San Diego; 3University of Chicago

Across societies, communal land rights have been more common than private land rights. We test the hypothesis that longer fallowing requirements – the time needed to leave land uncultivated to restore fertility – led to a higher prevalence of communal property rights. Longer fallowing requirements generate higher protection costs, making communal rights more beneficial. We construct an ecological measure of the optimal fallow length for the most suitable staple crop across grid cells based on soil type, temperature, and climate. We find that places where land needs to be fallowed for longer periods are more likely to have communal property rights both historically and presently. We then examine the implications for efforts to title land. We find that World Bank land titling interventions are less effective in places with longer fallowing requirements. Our results highlight the origins of property rights structures and how communal property rights interact with development policies.


Land values and formal property rights: evidence from 21 African countries

Matthew Ribar

Stanford University, United States of America

Why do land titles remain so rare, even though they are available on demand throughout much of the continent? This paper introduces a novel measure of rural land values obtained by interacting geospatial data on crop suitability with yearly global commodity prices for 20 different agricultural products. Combining data from the Demographic and Health Surveys and the Living Standards Measurement Surveys provides region-level titling rates over time for 21 African countries. Previous research on the political economy of property rights has outlined a variety of likely drivers of land titling; I find no evidence of most of them. Households whose landholdings have higher potential returns to investments are more likely to possess a formal property right, but only in areas without strong customary institutions. By showing that economic variables are insufficient to explain formalization, this paper shows how local politics affect whether households demand formal property rights.


Property rights and social institutions: how informal institutions and chiefs shape land formalization in urban Africa

Pablo Balan1, Augustin Bergeron2, Gabriel Tourek3, Jonathan Weigel4

1Tel Aviv University, Israel; 2University of Southern California; 3University of Pittsburgh; 4University of California, Berkeley

Formalization always takes place against a backdrop of social institutions. Yet, whether social institutions are an asset or a constraint for formalization remains unclear. We argue that, when offered the opportunity to formalize their land, citizens weigh the benefits of informal insurance against the social extraction costs imposed by social institutions. We study a randomized land titling program in a large Congolese city that caused a large increase in the demand for and acquisition of land titles. Demand for formalization was more pronounced among citizens who participated more in social institutions and had closer links to city chiefs. In turn, the program crowded out participation in social institutions and worsened citizens' perceptions of chiefs. In peripheral areas with stronger customary authorities, the program was completely ineffective. These results challenge the view that social institutions are an effective substitute for formal land property rights in urban areas.


Land- and credit-market effects of urban land titling: Evidence from Lesotho

Daniel Ayalew Ali, Klaus Deininger

World Bank, United States of America

While land titling is advocated to improve land and financial market functioning in developing country cities, evidence of credit market effects is limited. We use 20 years of registry data from Lesotho to assess impacts of an urban titling program overall and by component (titling vs. policy/institutional reforms) on land and mortgage markets by gender over time. In the longer term, both components increased land and mortgage markets activity, though at different rates. In the short term, titling did not affect mortgage markets, but policy reforms increased registered parcels’ likelihood of being mortgaged by reducing registration costs. Titling catalyzed translation of earlier family law changes to strengthen women’s property rights (that had no independent effect) into social and economic empowerment. Detailed analysis of impact channels and time profiles for titling programs’ components can provide policy-relevant insight and is relatively easy using parcel-level registry data.


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