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Selecting the State or Choosing the Chief? The Political Determinants of Smallholder Land Titling

Lauren Honig

World Development, 2017, vol. 100, issue C, 94-107

Abstract: This article examines the effect of customary institutions on smallholder land titling in Sub-Saharan Africa. It argues that the individual’s status within the customary institution conditions his or her demand for land titles. Individuals with greater customary privilege gain advantages from maintaining customary property rights, including stronger tenure security. For households with lower privilege within the customary institution, the benefits of adopting state land titles are higher. Analysis of an original survey of smallholder farmers in Senegal and an existing survey in Zambia demonstrates that households with greater customary privilege are less likely to adopt state land titles, independent of ethnicity, wealth, and land values. I find additional support for the argument in measures of increased tenure security for those with greater customary privilege. Qualitative interviews with customary authorities and smallholder farmers help establish the mechanism. These findings update the dominant wisdom that land values and material transaction costs drive smallholder land titling, demonstrating the important effect of status within the customary institution on demand for land titles. By examining the political underpinnings of customary property rights, this article contributes to our understandings of which farmers benefit most from land titling. This has implications for the improved design of land governance programs.

Keywords: land titling; customary tenure; chiefs; Zambia; Senegal; Africa (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017
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