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A Response to Klaus Deininger’s Blog Post The World Bank’s Land and Poverty Conference: 20 years on

March 22, 2019
By: Frederic Mousseau

Dear Mr. Deininger,

Your recent blog post surprisingly contradicts the prescriptions and policy guidance that your organization, the World Bank, gives to governments around the world, particularly in Africa.

You stress the need “to base interventions on land, on solid empirical evidence rather than ideology.” Yet, when it comes to land and agriculture, the World Bank clearly follows an ideological blueprint, which focuses on privatizing land and promoting large-scale, capital-intensive agriculture. This vision is explicit in the Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) 2017 report, which you co-authored. The EBA recommends that to “enhance productivity of land use,” countries should formalize private property rights, ease the sale and lease of land for commercial use, systematize the sale of public land by auction, and improve procedures for expropriation, all measures aimed at encouraging capital-intensive agriculture and agribusinesses.

This ideological approach goes against significant empirical evidence. Even the Bank’s own experts stress that the creation of land markets ultimately leads to land concentration for industrialized agriculture and monocultures that are less productive than family farms who “generally use land, labor, and capital more efficiently than do large-scale farmers.” It is therefore highly questionable that giving land away to private investors or developing more capital-intensive agriculture will lead to more efficient land use. Furthermore, given the climate crisis, the rapid depletion of natural resources, and land degradation that is increasingly affecting soils worldwide, the Bank’s definition of “effective” land use must be questioned. The effectiveness of land use cannot be about yields per hectare alone but must instead incorporate sustainability in social, cultural, environmental, and economic terms.

Moreover, you state that “In contrast to the then prevailing paradigm of individual titling, research has shown recognition of group rights to often be more effective.” This again contradicts your advice to governments in the EBA report, which is to formalize private titles in areas of “high agricultural potential” and only consider other forms of land tenure arrangements, such as communal land tenure, “in rural areas with lower levels of agricultural potential.” As you know, communally managed natural resources such as farmland, grazing land, forests, savannas, and water, are essential for the livelihoods of millions of rural poor. In customary laws, land is also valued as an ancestral asset with deep social and cultural significance.  In Africa, it is generally customary arrangements that organize cultivation and grazing, as well as fallows and reserves, the gathering of wild food, timber, fishing, and hunting.

If you now recognize the higher effectiveness of group rights, it is puzzling that you still advise low-income countries to privatize their public and customary land when there is “high agricultural potential” instead of encouraging them to secure group rights. Might this be a conscious choice to undermine communal, customary land rights of millions of farmers, pastoralists, and Indigenous Peoples so that their land can be given away to private investors for large-scale, industrial agriculture?

Your blog was published on the day we sent an open letter to the World Bank’s Interim President urging her to immediately put an end to the Bank’s attack on land rights orchestrated through the Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) project. The empirical evidence gathered over the last twenty years should make it clear that EBA must end now.


Frédéric Mousseau
Policy Director
The Oakland Institute


The Oakland Institute's open letter to the World Bank is available at

Klaus Deininger’s blog is available at

Please also see our latest report on the World Bank’s new land indicator at: