“These farmers have been working this land for generations. But they have no papers. So the government may clear this land for a project. People fear they will be chased away.” Such stories can be heard every day in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They demonstrate the insecurity of rural smallholders who are threatened with eviction without proper compensation. The ‘project’ may be large-scale agriculture, industry, bio fuels, forest conservation, urban sprawl, or transnational land-grabbing by countries insecure in food and energy resources. Can such peasants be empowered with ‘papers’? Five legal experts who believe in adaptation to local conditions share their experiences and work with local people, take their needs seriously, respect their ways of managing land, make good use of the legal system and opt for simple but robust registration systems.
André J. Hoekema is professor of legal pluralism at the University of Amsterdam. Jan Michiel Otto is professor of Law and Governance in Developing Countries at Leiden University.