Millennium Challenge Corporation Country Compact

    1. Project Description

      Benin was made eligible for a Millennium Challenge Corporation Country Compact in 2005. The Compact entered into force in October 2006. The five-year, $307,298,040 Compact had four components: the Access to Markets Project, the Access to Financial Services Project, the Access to Land Project, and the Access to Justice Project.1 Together, they were designed to increase investment and private sector activity.2 The Compact close out date was October 2011.

      The $33.7 million Access to Land (ATL) Project aimed to create secure land tenure and to create effective and transparent governance of land and property. It had five subcomponents: Policy and Legal Reform; Achieving Formal Property Rights to Land; Improving Land Registration Services and Land Information Management; Information, Education and Communication; and Support Land Program Coordination.

      Broadly, the Land Project sought to improve land administration and management, document property rights in rural and urban areas, decentralize land registration by establishing regional offices, and provide education on land policy.3 Ultimately, the project worked in 40 of Benin’s 77 communes.4

      At the time of the compact signing, most rural landholders held undocumented customary rights in land, and disputes were widespread. The Rural Land Rights Mapping component of the ATL project targeted recognition and certification of land held under customary rights by mapping agricultural fields and defining rights under custom in 300 villages in a village landholding plan (PFR) and issuance of up to 75,000 rural landholding certificates to individual holders of land rights. 5

    2. Methodology

      The PFR activity began with socio-anthropological studies to determine local custom and vocabulary in order to contextualize the later land rights documentation.6 Next, field teams that would carry out surveys and a census of landholding rights received training on the standard forms and methods to be used. The forms and methods incorporated mechanisms designed to ensure that the women in the household were consulted independently or alongside the men and that their representations of their status were accurately recorded.7

      Two kinds of rights were documented: administrative (primary—ownership-like) rights and operational rights (secondary—use rights).8 To mitigate the risk of disenfranchisement of people who were vulnerable, the project focused on developing contract forms and processes to document secondary rights and on identifying vulnerable groups and making a plan to protect and enhance their access to land.9 However, the surveys of right holders were not entirely successful in identifying secondary rights holders. Both primary and secondary right holders were often reluctant to identify secondary rights to land.10

      The PFR Program and project activities of parcel surveying, citizen landholder census and household member interviews, displaying the maps and landholder lists for public witness and comment, recording of rights, and issuing certificates had the purpose of accurately recording the rights and obligations of the villagers from their point of view.  The PFR documented customary rights and obligations and then transformed this record into three instruments – a village map with parcel boundaries; a list of landholders (named only as the villagers indicated); and certificates of landholding to be issued upon application by each landholder and based on the mayor’s authority to confirm and verify landholdings.

      In Benin, law, in which the default marital property regime is separate property, not joint property (P&F Code, Art. 185), and custom, which supports a patriarchal, patrilineal land system, work together to exclude women within male-headed households from having recognized rights to land. In addition, policymakers, administrators, and local populations tended to equate the land certificates anticipated following registration of parcels in the PFR to land titles, thus, project intentions to register secondary rights along with primary rights became more difficult politically. Presumably, titling land in more than one name and listing secondary rights would have had permanent implications for continued control over the land, which may not have been politically feasible.  Moreover, the procurement timelines and program priorities meant that the activities designed to address and reinforce secondary rights were largely concentrated into the final year of the Compact.11

      The project recognized mid-stream that three important groups—migrant farmers, transient pastoralists, and women—were not having their secondary rights recorded. At that time, the project developed a supplementary form for the census, a checklist of the rights that were not being documented.  The project also increased awareness-raising efforts and oversight by project managers. However, because this was recognized and implemented late and only in some communities, it was difficult to completely accomplish objectives within the given timeframe.12 A few women took advantage of the Rural Land Plan activities to ask for their legal share of inheritance, or to ask that their names are recorded on land that they had purchased. However, these actions were not responded to positively by their families. Thus, women in male-headed households, who purchased their own land, lost their right to that land in the process of certification. Under the law, this land belongs to the purchaser as her separate property, but under custom all land belongs to the male head of household.

    3. Outcomes

      When women were in the fortunate, though rare, position to have received primary rights to land as a gift from their biological parents because (1) the daughter was thought to have more superior qualities than the son, or (2) the daughter was an only child, the Rural Land Plans clarified their land rights, and made them into official landowners.13 However, for women who were in the more common position of having insecure secondary rights to land, Rural Land Plans formalized these inequalities by failing to formally recognize and record them.14

      Women who moved to land outside of where the Rural Land Plan was developed, may be those women who lost rights to land within the plan area. Understanding this group of women is very important to assessing how the project impacted women.

    NOTES
    1. Giovarelli, R., Hannay, L., Scalise, E., Richardson, A., Seitz, V. and Gaynor, R. (2015). “Gender and Land: Good Practices and Lessons Learned from Four Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact Funded Land Projects.” Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights

    2. Id.

    3. Id.

    4. Millennium Challenge Account Benin. 2009. Program Summary.

    5. Elbow, K., A. Zogo, K. Zongo, and A. Diouf. 2012. Emerging Lessons from MCC/MCA-Sponsored Initiatives to Formalize Customary Land Rights and Local Land Management Practices in Benin, Burkina Faso and Senegal.

    6. Valletta, W. 2013. Lesotho/Benin Memo.

    7. Id.

    8. Elbow, K. 2013. Interview with Renee Giovarelli.

    9. Id.

    10. Id.

    11. Elbow, K. 2013. Interview with Renee Giovarelli.

    12. Id.

    13. Benin Consulting Group. Gougounou Report.

    14. Benin Consulting Group. Gougounou Report.