Speech delivered by the UNDP Country Director at the Land Tenure Summit

Sep 4, 2014

His Excellency President of the Republic of South Africa, Jacob Zuma

Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers

Director Generals of different departments


Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and gentlemen

It is a great pleasure and an honour for me to be here with you today on behalf of the United Nations Development Programme at this important land tenure summit and to be giving a few supporting remarks.

We are well aware of the historic and exploitative land tenure practices that have plagued this continent before African countries were eventually able to gain their independence and right to self-determination in the 1950s and 60s. The United Nations is proud to have supported this decolonization process and to have made a meaningful contribution, albeit this was a role that has often gone unnoticed and at best under-recognized.

While the history of land tenure reform differs based on the colonial experience of African countries, there are, however, some similarities. In many cases, colonization took the form of military conquest, unjust treaties and agreements, and unequal trade and development regimes. In many instances, Africans were displaced from high yielding agricultural lands and settled in some of the worst lands. Their land rights were held in trust by state institutions, which, in the eyes of many Africans, lacked legitimacy.

Mr. President and honourable guests, as we deliberate today, let us remember that land lies at the heart of social, environmental, political and economic life in all African countries. Most African economies rely heavily on agriculture and natural resources. Several UNDP supported national studies on Economic Policies and Poverty Reduction have confirmed that land reform is critical to attaining sustainable development in Africa and in particular in achieving MDG 1 on halving extreme poverty by 2015.

Land is a critical productive asset, and many livelihoods depend on it. As the United Nations Development Programme we think that land reform particularly secure tenure rights for all, is central to achieve socio-economic goals of addressing poverty, unemployment and inequality.

A Policy research brief conducted by UNDP a few a years ago, comparing land reform efforts in several Latin American, African and Asian countries has concluded that both market led and state led land reform efforts have achieved mixed results.  The policy brief argues for a redistributive alternative with four broad pillars. The first being that rural poor need to establish their own independent organizations; the second, that a broad pro-reform political coalition should be established and should wield political influence at the national level; third, substantial public investment through state loans and technical assistance to generate genuine material support for reform efforts is needed; and fourth, that these be part of a pro-poor growth and development strategy.

Land reform and governance issues are often highly sensitive and politicized, UNDP as an impartial and honest broker is therefore uniquely qualified and well placed to offer support to countries in this very important area of development. In addition, UNDP’s ability to bring together a wide range of stakeholders to offer different country experiences and approaches can help policy makers reflect on the most suitable approach to take in the country.

It is in this connection and within the framework of our programme to support the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform in developing an integrated and comprehensive rural development strategy, that UNDP was pleased to respond to the Government of South Africa’s request in assisting with this event. That is why, together with FAO, UNDP has brought a number of renowned international experts to share their experiences from other countries on matters of land administration, reform and management.

We hope the inputs of these experts will enrich the discussions and we look forward to the declaration of the summit and commit to continue working together with government in promoting equitable access to land in South Africa.

We wish the summit every success.

Thank you.

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