Economics serving society

L. Wren-Lewis - Agriculture : When land registration helps improve agricultural investments and reduce tree cover loss (June 2020)

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In a few words

To curb deforestation and climate change, public policies could help promote new ways of considering local services produced by forest when individuals, firms and community allocate land across alternative uses.

In a recent article, Liam Wren-Lewis (PSE/INRAE), Luis Becerra-Valbuena (PSE/Paris 1), and Kenneth Houngbedji (IRD) study a large-scale experiment implemented by the Government of Benin in partnership with the Millennium Challenge Corporation that formalized customary land rights held by households and created local land management committees in 300 villages randomly selected from around 600 voluntary villages. As part of this intervention, also called Plans Fonciers Ruraux (PFR), 70,000 landholdings, representing around 286,083 ha of rural land, were demarcated, and registered in the treated villages in Benin, a country with a high rate of deforestation driven by demand for agricultural land. Liam and his co-authors used high resolution satellite imageries to measure tree cover loss before and after the intervention in treated and control villages and found that the program reduced the area of forest loss in the PFR villages by around 20%. This represents around 600 ha of extra tree cover loss prevented in the treated villages over 8 years. For comparison, a football pitch covers an area of 0.714ha.

As for mechanisms, the results from qualitative and quantitative household surveys suggest that land registration activities reduced deforestation in Benin through 3 main channels. Firstly, by increasing agricultural productivity on existing plots. Secondly, by reducing the need to clear existing forested land to signal and safeguard private land rights. Thirdly, by improving land governance and the action of communal management of forest resources. Overall, considering previous studies of the PFR that found that land registration encouraged household to invest more on their parcels (see Goldstein et al, 2018), these new results suggest that formalizing customary land rights in rural areas can be an effective way to reduce forest loss while improving agricultural investments.

References of the academic papers

(2020) Formalizing land rights can reduce forest loss: Experimental evidence from Benin
Liam Wren-Lewis, Luis Becerra-Valbuena and Kenneth Houngbedji
Science Advances, 26 Jun 2020:Vol. 6, no. 26, eabb6914

(2018) Formalization without certification? Experimental evidence on property rights and investment
Markus Goldstein, Kenneth Houngbedji, Florence Kondylis, Michael O’Sullivan and Harris Selod
Journal of Development Economics, 132, 2018, 57-74