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Copyright (c) 1998 Washington College of Law, American University
The American University International Law Review

ARTICLE: Designing Land Registration Systems for Developing Countries


13 Am. U. Int'l L. Rev. 647


Tim Hanstad *


Development literature is filled with information concerning the importance of land and land rights in the economic development process. Individual and secure land tenure rights are vital components of a productive agricultural sector, which is crucial to poverty alleviation and economic growth. In most instances, secure land tenure requires that legal rights to land are adequately defined and documented. Defining and documenting landowners' legal rights and the extent of the landholding are important for simplifying land transactions, using land as collateral for credit, and enabling land administration. This article discusses land registration systems from the perspective of a developing country's government. The discussion covers countries in transition from a state or centrally planned economy to an open market economy. Further, this article considers the relative importance of land registration and asks when a formal land registration system should be established, what type of land registration system is preferable, and how to establish and maintain the system. 1

Two unique characteristics of land distinguish it from other types of property. First, land is immovable, so it cannot be physically transferred from one person to another. Second, land is permanent; it cannot be increased, decreased, or destroyed as can all other forms of wealth. Land's permanence makes it peculiarly capable of lasting record.

Land tenure and title featured prominently in early agricultural economies. Contracts entered into as early as the third millenium B.C. demonstrated that people needed tenure security in the land they cleared. 2 The Bible ...
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