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Securing Land Rights for the Poor Now Reaping Rewards

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The hotly debated issue of land rights for the poor has never been more relevant. There is mounting evidence that access to land rights can catapult the poor out of poverty and spur growth for the economy. Experience in India and China is now showing the economic power unleashed when the poor gain full legal rights over their land. But it can be a thornier issue in Africa, where much land is still held under customary law, with people either holding it through their clan or tribe, or being considered as owners of where they live, without formal documents. Many countries are now adapting their laws to switch to a system of formal titles, but the process is very uneven and some question whether western-style property titles are appropriate in an African context.

While there are many schemes to alleviate or eliminate poverty through micro-credit, grants or aid, some believe the secret is in creating a sound framework of property rights, giving poor people important collateral to raise money against the value of the land on which they live. The Peruvian economist, Hernando de Soto, has calculated that the total value of informal urban dwellings and rural land owned under customary law is around three times greater than Africa’s entire gross domestic product and 100 times greater than its foreign direct investment.

But the urgency of this problem can be seen in the numbers of rural poor – many of whom will migrate to the world’s fast-growing cities. In China there are 800 million, in India the rural poor number 270 million and 70 percent of Africa’s 888 million (2005,UN) are rural poor.

The Rural Development Institute (www.rdiland.org), an NGO based in Seattle, Washington, USA – and with offices and projects in India, China, Indonesia, Russia, Africa – uses lawyers to advocate and fight for land rights for the rural poor. To date, RDI has helped provide land rights to more than 100 million poor families worldwide. Their approach is called micro-owning whereby the poor are helped to acquire land assets. These are often small plots of land – sometimes 1/10th acre – that can provide the nutritional needs for a family and help them on the road to the virtuous cycle of long-term, sustainable and generational poverty alleviation.

“Micro-ownership transforms the lives of the rural poor,” according to Radha Friedman, Associate Director, Development and Communication, just back from visiting RDI’s Indian projects. “Outside Bangalore in the state of Karnataka one woman who was landless worked two shifts a day in the hot sun. She was barely able to feed her children. She was making 8 to 10 rupees a day – when a bottle of water costs 10 rupees. We helped her secure a plot of land to grow jasmine flowers which she sells in the market. She now makes between 85 to 200 rupees a day. She can eat three times a day and her kids can afford to go to school. She said she had not thought about how far she had come, but it clearly showed she had such pride in what she had achieved. A number of Indian states have adopted this program, enabling people to purchase micro-gardens and micro-plots of land. It has been such a success that other Indian states are now showing interest.”

“All of this didn’t happen overnight,” said Lincoln Miller, Chief Operations Officer at RDI. “We conducted lots of research and surveyed the rural poor. We analyzed how the laws were affecting them. It took a long time to change government attitudes. We hopefully find a voice in the government who will listen to us. They need to recognize that land rights are one of the best routes out of poverty. In Africa we are primarily working in Burundi, Rwanda and Angola. In addition to working with government to change national policy and laws, we also conduct awareness-raising and education at the grassroots level, especially targeting women. Land rights are a political issue. The majority of the world’s poor is rural. By giving them land rights this process can help mitigate migration to the city.”

The benefits of owning land include improved family status, pride and hope, reduced hunger and improved family nutrition from crops produced on land , increased income from sale of excess production, improved rural health, including reduction in infant mortality and reduction in death from disease or infection due to malnutrition, labor-intensive and productivity-enhancing, investments in land motivated by secure land rights, increased family savings as a result of ability to invest in land improvements, ability of poor to benefit from any market increases in land values, enhanced capacity to conduct micro-enterprise activities, empowerment of women, and decreased pressure to migrate to already crowded urban areas.

However in South Africa, land rights have been further complicated by the legacy of apartheid. In 1994, 80 percent of farmland was in white hands. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) want to see 30 percent of that transferred to black ownership by 2015. Blacks are also able to claim ownership for land as long as they live on it.

The strong reaction against past experiments in collectivizing land can be understood in the experience of Zambia. Under President Kenneth Kaunda, everything was nationalized, from copper mines to corner shops. Average annual incomes almost halved in 40 years despite the country receiving more aid per head of population than virtually any other in the world.

Any organizations or individuals seeking land rights need only to contact the RDI by email to get the legal ball rolling.

Published: February 2007

Resources

  • The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions tracks forcible evictions from land. In its latest global survey of forced evictions from 2003-2006 reveals that nearly 2 million people in Africa and over 2.1 million people in Asia and the Pacific have been forcibly evicted from their homes since 2003. http://www.cohre.org/
  • Based in Cape Town, South Africa, the Shack/Slum Dwellers International targets the plight of people living in semi-urban and urban areas: http://www.sdinet.org/
  • The Cities Alliance: Cities without Slums links together a global coalition of cities and their development partners committed to scaling up successful approaches to poverty reduction: http://www.citiesalliance.org/index.html
  • Rural Development Institute: Email: info@rdiland.org Website: http://www.rdiland.org

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.

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Tiny Homes to Meet Global Housing Crisis

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

More than 1 billion people around the world lack decent shelter. Of these, the majority live in urban areas, usually in slums and informal settlements (UN-HABITAT).

The world’s megacities – like Mumbai, India, where more than 22 million live in the metropolitan region – have to find a way to provide housing that is both affordable and does the minimum possible amount of harm to the environment.

About one-third of the world’s urban dwellers live in slums, and the United Nations estimates that the number of people living in such conditions will double by 2030 as a result of rapid urbanization in developing countries.

The fast pace of growth of India’s cities presents an enormous challenge: how to house so many people with dignity and to a good standard. India’s city slums are notorious and recently became the subject of the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire (http://www.slumdogmillionairemovie.co.uk/).

With a population of 1.2 billion, India needs to find 25 million homes a year to meet current demand, according to McKinsey and Co.

Housing prices have risen by 16 percent a year for the past four years. While the middle class – estimated at over 300 million people – has piled into high-end apartments and houses, it has been the country’s low-income people who have been frozen out of the option of quality homes.

The concept of targeting those at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ (BOP) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fortune_at_the_Bottom_of_the_Pyramid) has drawn attention to the estimated 23 million poor urban dwellers in India, and 180 million rural families, who have savings and want to own a home. Monitor India (http://www.monitor.com/in/) believes these people have annual earnings between US $1,400 and US $3,000.

The Indian manufacturing powerhouse Tata – which this year launched a BOP-focused car, the Tata Nano – has designed and is building, Nano Homes – small apartments outside Mumbai for US $8,600 (http://tatahousing.in/pages/home.php). It also hopes to expand to other major Indian cities as well.

The Nano homes are built on a modest scale: there are three sizes with the smallest measuring 67 square metres. They consist of a single room that doubles as a bedroom by night with a sink, bath and toilet behind a partition.

Criticisms include location – on the edges of major cities – where residents would have to commute long distances to get to their jobs.

Even so, Nano apartments are so popular buyers are being chosen by lottery.

“India’s housing crisis lies in the fact that the poor in the cities are priced out of the market,” Sundar Burra, an adviser to the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centre, a Mumbai-based housing rights organization, told Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper.

“State supply of housing for the poor is woefully inadequate in relation to the need. Slums proliferate as a solution to this state of affairs.”

People can get a mortgage for the homes from Tata Home Finance.

Tata is not the only company targeting this market. India’s Matheran Realty (http://www.tmcity.in/) is building what it claim is India’s largest affordable housing project, Tanaji Malusare City, in the villages of Shirse and Akurle of Karjat (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karjat). The 15,000 homes would house 70,000 people and would sell for US $4,698.

Another developer, Godrej Properties (http://www.godrejproperties.com/), is building a BOP housing development outside the city of Ahmedabad with apartments costing US $11,749.

“(Property) developers have recognized that the real demand no longer lies in the premium segment and are opting to build smaller, no-frills apartments,” said Deepak Parekh of the Housing Development Finance Corporation (http://www.hdfcindia.com/).

It estimates the affordable housing market will be worth US$ 110 billion in India by 2013 and will account for 80 percent of India’s housing market.

“Affordable housing is not about box-sized, budget homes in far-flung places where there is no connectivity to workplaces and little surrounding infrastructure,” Parekh told HDFC’s shareholders. “Affordable housing has to be able to cut across all income segments and has to make economic sense in terms of proximity to the workplace.”

Published: November 2009

Resources

1) Building and Social Housing Foundation: BSHF is an independent organisation that works both in the UK and internationally to identify innovative housing solutions and to foster the exchange of information and good practice. Website: http://www.bshf.org/home.cfm

2) Tiny House Design Blog: The blog is full of ideas and plans for making small homes cheaply. Website: http://www.tinyhousedesign.com/

3) A blog detailing the Tata dwellings in diagrams and photographs. Website: http://www.tslr.net/2009/06/tatas-nano-homes.html

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

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This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Making Bamboo Houses Easier to Build

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

More than 1 billion people around the world lack decent shelter. Of these, the majority live in urban areas, usually in slums and informal settlements (UN-HABITAT). Latin America has a serious shortage of adequate housing: in Colombia, 43 percent of the population needs decent housing; in Brazil, 45 percent; Peru, 53 percent.

The challenge is to provide good quality homes without significantly harming the environment – and with constrained budgets. Bamboo – cheap, strong, quickly renewable and beautiful to look at (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo) – is an ideal solution to replace traditional wood lumber. In Bolivia, pioneering work is underway to improve the quality of homes and buildings made with bamboo.

Bamboo is the fastest growing woody plant in the world, sometimes growing over 1 metre a day. Bolivia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolivia) has about 17 identified bamboo species, of which five have a significant economic value. Around the world, there are 1,000 species of bamboo. They grow in a wide variety of climates, from cold mountains to hot tropical regions.

Once called the “poor man’s timber” – a temporary building material to replace once there is more money – bamboo is now getting the respect it deserves. Bamboo for housing has a long history in Latin America, stretching back 4,500 years to ancient civilizations. In Asia, it has long been a traditional construction material. But most of the existing bamboo dwellings in Latin America are 50 to 100 years old.

The most popular species of bamboo used in South America is Guadua, which is known for being large, straight and attractive.

“In Bolivia, there is no other building material more competitive in costs,” said Jose Luis Reque Campero, coordinator of the Bolbambu Programme of the Architectural Research Institute, Universidad Mayor de San Simon, Bolivia (http://www.umss.edu.bo/).

“Bamboo is the material that requires less energy, followed by wood and concrete, with steel in last place, needing energy necessary for its production 50 times greater than that required by bamboo.”

Campero also says bamboo is much less expensive than traditional building materials.

“But the biggest advantage is certainly the possibility of planting bamboo, and then reaping houses,” he said.

Campero has focused his efforts on a key component of bamboo housing: the joints that bind the bamboo poles together. Driven by the desire to find ways to improve the ease of building bamboo homes and their strength, Campero came up with the Bamboo Bolivia Space Structures, Structural System: EVO (BBSS-EVO) (named after Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evo_Morales).

Traditional joints took a long time to make and required power tools and complex instruction manuals. Simplifying the building techniques necessary for bamboo construction was important because, while bamboo was cheap, the labour costs were high.

The joint looks like a giant two-headed Q-Tip. Each end is made of four pieces of bamboo, connected by a long screw with bolts on each end taken from old cars. The joint is inserted inside the bamboo poles and snaps shut, joining poles tightly together and, as each piece is assembled, looking like a child’s building toy as the structure of the bamboo home takes shape.

The new joint was easier to assemble and was quickly adopted by local builders. It also allows for a vast range of structures and shapes to be built, limited only by imagination and physics.

Devising joints made from bamboo has the advantage of avoiding the weight and cost of bringing in concrete, especially to remote areas.

“The manufacturing process is fully in the workshop and indoors,” said Campero, “which in addition to allowing a degree of quality control in production, improves working conditions for staff and protects the material.”

The whole building process adheres to “the principles of the famous phrase: ‘do-it-yourself’.”

The Evo joint allows for flexibility and easy assembly and disassembly, enabling the builder to move around parts of the structure and not be wedded to the original structural plan. This has the advantage of customizing the building to its physical location.

Working in the tropical forests of Cochabamba (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochabamba), Campero has been testing his designs with the local people, who were looking to improve the tourist infrastructure in the resort town of Cristal Mayu.

Costa Rica in Central America – ironically a country without indigenous bamboo plants – has used its National Bamboo Project of Costa Rica (http://www.unesco.org/most/centram1.htm) to prove it is possible to both cultivate bamboo and use it to provide housing for the poor, confirming the wisdom of millions of people: bamboo is economical, convenient, safe and looks great.

Campero has received a great deal of interest in his innovations and is looking for funding partners in 2009 to take his work further.

He has this advice for other builders and designers: “Stick to developing local technologies, use what you have and innovate, use native materials and the local environment for the development of elements, components and construction systems. Don’t rely on advanced technology tools for manufacture, and stay in harmony with the human need for creativity.”

Published: December 2008

Resources

  • UNEP, the UN’s Environment Programme, has produced a report on bamboo biodiversity and how it can be preserved. Website: http://www.unep-wcmc.org
  • The Asian Development Bank is using its Markets for Poor programme to link bamboo products to marketplaces, helping poor communities. Website:http://www.markets4poor.org/
  • The United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-HABITAT, is the United Nations agency for human settlements. It is mandated by the UN General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. Website: www.unhabitat.org

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Kenyan Eco-Village Being Built by Slum-Dwellers

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

A Kenyan eco-village is helping slum dwellers to start new lives and increase their wealth. The community, Kaputei, is being built by former slum residents – some of whom used to beg to survive – and is providing new homes with electricity, running water and services like schools and parks. By building their own homes, with the help of affordable mortgage loans, the residents are able to make a big upgrade to their quality of life while acquiring real wealth.

More than 900 million people – almost a sixth of the world’s population – now live in urban slums (UN). This number will double by 2030 as a result of rapid urbanization in developing countries. Already in developing countries 43 per cent of urban dwellers live in slums, and the figure leaps to 78 per cent in the least-developed countries. The UN estimates it will take US $18 billion a year to improve living conditions for these people – and most of it will have to come from the residents themselves.

Kaputei is a project of Kenya’s largest and oldest micro-finance lender, Jamii Bora (www.jamiibora.org). Having enjoyed significant success in making loans to over 225,000 people – after starting out in 1999 with loans to just 50 beggars – it realized something on a larger scale was necessary to permanently transform the lives of poor Kenyans.

Jamii Bora’s founder, Ingrid Munro, saw the whole atmosphere of the slums as the biggest impediment to long-term life changes. “As long as you are living in the slums, you will never climb out of poverty,” she told The Independent newspaper. “Families of course need economic opportunities to rise out of poverty, but what good are they if you are still living in hell?”

Jamii Bora came up with the idea of building an entire community from scratch, and doing it in way that was affordable, ecological and sustainable, while building the wealth of the residents. Since 2007, the project has provided homes for 50 families; the target is to have homes for 2,000.

One former beggar who has built her own home is Clarice Adhiambo. An early client of Jamii Bora, she started to learn how to save, reaching her first goal of saving 1,000 Kenyan shillings (US $12.81). With Jamii Bora’s encouragement, she plowed this money back into buying some fish and selling it in the markets. Over time, she was able to grow her efforts until she was a regular market trader, and was borrowing as much as US $1,900 to fund various slum businesses.

Then came the Kaputei project. It has helped Adhiambo move from a 3 meter by 3 meter tin shack in the Nairobi slum of Soweto to her own home with running water: “So much water,” she told The Independent.

The new home is 50 square metres with two bedrooms, a sitting room and a bathroom.

Adhiambo pays US $36 a month for her mortgage — more than most people, because she wants to pay it off quickly. That compares to about US $20 a month in rent paid by many slum dwellers to live in squalor with poor services and quality of life.

Kaputei is a clever community project. Unlike attempts to build housing for the poor in isolation, Kaputei is based on neighbourhoods of 250 families each, with common community centres, playgrounds, parks and church halls. There is a town centre, and zones for commercial and industrial enterprises. The project was approved by the Kenyan government in 2004 and has planning permission for 119 hectares. Trees are being planted to provide protection from wind, add beauty, and, in time, to be a source of income or firewood. A wetland is being used to recycle waste water and is being run in partnership with Kenyan universities.

Each house costs US $1,875 to build. The homes are so cheap because the building materials are assembled in a factory on site, and the families help with the building.

Three house models are available and the families – from the Kamba, Kikuyu, Luo and Maasai peoples – choose the one they like by viewing show homes on site. Each home has access to roads, water and sewage.

It’s estimated the entire community of 2,000 families will cost US $3,750,000 for the homes, and another US $3,750,000 for infrastructure. Mortgages are offered at between 8.5 percent and 10 percent interest and are estimated to take 10 to 15 years to repay. The average mortgage is about US $32 a month.

Resources

Builders Without Borders: Is an international network of ecological builders who advocate the use of straw, earth and other local, affordable materials in construction. Website: www.builderswithoutborders.org/

World Hands Project: An NGO specialising in simple building techniques for the poor. Website:www.worldhandsproject.org

CIDEM and Ecosur specialize in building low-cost community housing using eco-materials. They have projects around the world and are based in Cuba. Website: www.ecosur.org

The Building and Social Housing Foundation: An independent research organization promoting sustainable development and innovation in housing through collaborative research and knowledge transfer. Website: www.bshf.org

Slum TV: Based deep inside Nairobi’s largest slum, Mathare, they have been seeking out the stories of hope where international media only see violence and gloom. Website: www.slum-tv.org

Published: June 2009

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2009: Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021