Land tenure security as the holy grail: do mapping and registration bring what is often assumed?

J.A. Zevenbergen, Guus van Westen

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Land tenure security is a key concept underlying many of the interventions in the field of land governance. Various projects within international programmes aim at increasing tenure security, in the first place as a desirable objective in land governance itself, providing security to people and their livelihoods. But it is also viewed as a contributing factor, even necessary condition, for the realization of downstream objectives such as conflict management and resolution, food security and economic development, and gender equality. While there is general support for the importance of land tenure security in fostering sustainable and just development, there is less unanimity on what it actually entails, or how it can and should be attained. Tenure security in practice is often viewed differently by different people, and attempts to promote it are often based on assumptions that are not made explicit – in some cases we may not even be aware of such implicit assumptions. This exposes interventions to certain risks that we should try to avoid.
This paper discusses land tenure security, as a concept and policy objective, and how it links to interventions on mapping and registration. It is clear that the large amount of literature on the topic is far from unanimous on the impact of, and conditions for, such interventions; reflecting the complexity of the subject. A key issue is whether the intervention is primarily aimed at protecting all those that currently have access to land (passive security) or primarily aims to improve the functioning and efficiency of the market of commodified land rights (active security). Other assumptions deal with the link to conflicts, gender, development
agendas and the role of the different actors.
The paper will list some issues linked to these assumptions based on a recent Literature Review. An intervention only focusing on mapping and registration can rarely make any real impact, and always needs to be combined with an array of other activities. And when the overall land governance situation is very unstable or unequal, such an intervention will also not improve the livelihood of many of the vulnerable and marginalized people in the area. The recent trends in land administration may help, but it is yet to be seen if it is enough to reach
true impact for all.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFIG Working Week 2023 Proceedings
Subtitle of host publicationProtecting our world, conquering new frontiers
PublisherInternational Federation of Surveyors (FIG)
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 28 May 2023
EventFIG Working Week 2023: Protecting our world, conquering new frontiers - Orlando, United States
Duration: 28 May 20231 Jun 2023


ConferenceFIG Working Week 2023
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


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