The Complex Relationship Between Land and Violent Conflict
The purpose of this toolkit is to introduce readers to the complex relationship between land and violent conflict and to provide guidance on recommended approaches and actions to address some of the root causes of conflict. This understanding can help staff diagnose a problem, support strategic planning, and develop projects and activities that build on a robust appraisal of local context and conditions.
USAID’s Work and Access to Land
Much of USAID’s work involves access to, or control over, land or resources on land—whether through support for agriculture, silviculture, conservation, infrastructure, urban and peri-urban development, and other economic uses. Therefore, land represents both a uniquely powerful risk of conflict and a uniquely powerful opportunity for cooperation and peacebuilding across USAID’s full programmatic spectrum.
Improving How Land is Governed
Improving how land is governed—that is, determining control over, access to, and use of land and the resources that come from it—has important development benefits. A more transparent, accountable, and inclusive land sector can promote resilience, increase security, create platforms and opportunities for peaceful dispute resolution, provide incentives for adaptive behaviors that help individuals and communities respond to climate and other shocks, and expand the assets people hold. For women and other frequently marginalized groups, secure rights to land and resources can increase their voice and decision-making opportunities, enable their participation in governance and peacebuilding bodies, and strengthen their adaptive capacities. For these reasons, land should not only be viewed as a point of fragility, but also as a critical productive and social asset that contributes to strengthening resilience and inclusive peacebuilding.
Unfortunately, formal land institutions are often weak, subject to corrupt dealings, fail to deliver services because they are under-resourced or inaccessible, or ignore the needs of populations unused to or excluded from formal legal systems. Customary or informal land governance systems are often under pressure from forces of economic development and economic and political elites, migration, urbanization, and growing pressure to preserve land for climate change mitigation or biodiversity conservation. These systems may not be recognized by, or able to coordinate well with, formal systems. Historic injustices and current inequities, including discriminatory social norms and practices, can translate into highly unequal patterns of land and resource access, control, and ownership. These factors contribute to marginalization, grievances, and insecurity. In addition, weak land governance can adversely affect economic growth, human rights, food security, greenhouse gas emissions, natural resource management, and women’s empowerment.
The Impacts of Climate Change on Land Conflict
In addition, the impacts of climate change on conflict and security will manifest through changes in land and water systems. Many climate-security issues the Agency must address involve changes to resource availability that contribute to land conflict. Moreover, beyond addressing these conflicts, the Agency’s ambitious mitigation and adaptation goals must be carefully managed to avoid inadvertently triggering conflict over land and resources. As climate change advances and degrades human security overall, carefully designed programming can help limit deforestation, reinforce resilience, and bolster durable peace, but will only be sustainable if it is conflict-sensitive and considers local land use dynamics.
The Rapid Appraisal Guide
This toolkit explores key issues, discusses lessons learned from USAID programming, and suggests relevant program interventions. It includes a Rapid Appraisal Guide that can be used to help determine which land issues are most relevant to conflict in a particular setting, and which offer good opportunities for building cooperation, peace, and ultimately greater resilience to shocks and stresses. The Rapid Appraisal Guide can be used to support Strategic Planning processes as well as project and activity design and implementation stages. It also provides recommendations for how to incorporate land and conflict concerns into program monitoring and evaluation. The toolkit emphasizes that land issues must be approached from a systems perspective that builds on the realities of the local context to better ensure the sustainability of programs and broader peace and stability.
“Do No Harm” Approach
To that end, this toolkit addresses the importance of “do no harm” when programs and activities touch on land issues (CDA, 2022), which involves understanding and mitigating the potential for negative impacts on conflict dynamics, combined with other longer-term measures to enhance resilience or peace. Doing no harm also requires that USAID staff recognize that development and humanitarian interventions themselves alter local conditions and power dynamics, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Building in time to pause, reflect, and course correct is essential.
Conflict-sensitive programming, which builds on the “do no harm” foundation, identifies opportunities to strengthen social connections that help reduce tensions and conflict while promoting peaceful, positive outcomes. This does not mean that all USAID programming must become peacebuilding programming; it means that improved peace and resilience are inherently important for successful development outcomes and on their own merits. This toolkit should allow USAID staff to gain a deeper understanding of some important forces that drive violence and develop more strategic, focused, and sustainable interventions.
This toolkit provides guidance on the complex relationship between land and violent conflict, and offers recommendations for addressing the root causes of conflict. It emphasizes the importance of improving how land is governed, and how a transparent and inclusive land sector can promote resilience, security, and peacebuilding. The toolkit also explores the impacts of climate change on land conflict, and provides a Rapid Appraisal Guide.