IPF Continuing Fellowship Project Proposal

Syed Mohammad Ali




The World Bank’s latest ‘weapon’ in the ‘fight against global poverty’, the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP), recognize the need for agrarian reforms in order to reduce poverty and hunger. However, experiences in developing countries which have adopted the PRSP approach suggest little progress has been made in this regard. The purpose of this research will be to focus on how the PRSP process has implicitly dealt with the agrarian reforms issue, and in turn what measures have explicitly been adopted by various countries that are currently implementing the PRSP approach. Based on an examination of experiences emerging from various developing countries, as well as World Bank’s own research on tenure arrangements, substantive reforms measures will be identified to enable the PRSP process to become a more effective vehicle for agrarian redistribution.



I           Project title


The prospect of land reforms under the PRSP


II          Justification

Since the PRSP approach was introduced at the 1999 annual meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC, it has been adopted by nearly 80 low-income countries.[1] There now exits a critical mass of evidence on implementation of the PRSP process, since many of these countries have neared the end of their first cycle (comprising a three-year period) of implementation. An independent review at this point can thus not only provide a timely update of how the PRSP progress is unfolding on ground, but it can also be used to draw vital lessons to revitalize the in-built process of revising the PRSP approach. To achieve the latter aim in particular, however, it is necessary to identify a specific thematic issue, which has almost universal relevance in terms of poverty alleviation.

The issue of land reforms provides such a unifying thematic issue, given the broad consensus concerning access to land being a basic prerequisite for an inclusive and broad-based development strategy. Since the PRSP process itself admits the need for agrarian reforms, experiences emerging from developing countries which have adopted this approach need to be considered to assess the strength of their commitments, and to identify the shortfalls deterring agrarian reforms in practice.

III         Research Issue: Land reforms under the PRSP process


While formulating the PRSP process, the World Bank has accepted the contention that inequitable access to land impedes growth, and that institutional factors are as important as technological ones in improving agricultural productivity. The initiatives of the World Bank in pushing forward such reforms however include measures like improving titling, increased focus on land registries, and market-led lad redistribution. Such market-assisted land reforms have more often than not, nullified intentions to redistribute land in many developing countries, particularly those in Latin America and Africa.[2]


While few of the PRSPs refer to structural reforms that have proven poverty-reduction impacts such as land redistribution, only a small handful of PRSPs address the need to strengthen land tenancy agreements.[3] Often this implies access to credits for the landless to buy land at market rates from wealthy landowners and to acquire fertilizers and technical assistance for new, marketable crops. Yet these market-assisted reforms place a heavy burden on poor people to repay expensive loans, often from harvests from poor soils (since landowners often choose to sell the most marginal and ecologically fragile plots that they own).


Amongst PRSPs where land tenure is given the most attention includes countries like Ethiopia and Uganda. Conversely, the PRSP for Bangladesh has aimed to not only design programmes to assist broad-based asset access to the poor including reforms in land tenancy market, but to also undertake effective distribution of khas lands to landless families. The PRSP for Bangladesh has also aimed to rehabilitate 65,000 landless and homeless families for self- employment through its Abashon Programme.[4] Such examples indicate that there is indeed variety in how the PRSPs formulated by different countries have chosen to address land tenure arrangements, it is these varied arrangements, and their subsequent implementation on ground which this research aims to identify and analyze, in order to make subsequent prescriptions of value to the broader PRSP process.

IV        Research Objective

Given the above imperatives, the purposed research will begin by focusing on how the PRSP process has dealt with the issue of land use, and what measures have been adopted for this purpose by various countries which are currently implementing the PRSP approach. Based on an examination of ground experiences emerging from various countries, as well as World Bank’s own research on tenure arrangements, substantive measures will be put forth to make the PRSP process a more effective vehicle for agrarian redistribution.  

V         Methodological Approach


To undertake the above work, the research will begin by closely examining how the PRSP process itself has dealt with land tenure arrangements and also examine a range of country experiences which have sought to achieve more than a rhetorical admission of the need for agrarian land reforms. In this regard, implementation experiences emerging from the PRSP process will be identified as much as possible using primary and secondary sources of inquiry. The research will specifically examine whether the PRSP processes in selected countries has in fact led to the updating of land records and creation of transparent systems to verify whether any previous land reforms have been contravened; it will aim to analyze tenancy laws and other legal frameworks with reference to one or two countries. In the scenario of land distribution, the gender perspective will also be considered.


This research will involve close liaison with key stakeholders in Pakistan including the PRSP Cell in the Ministry of Finance and NGOs like South Asia Partnership and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which have been vocal advocates of land reforms in the country.[5] Moreover, primary research will be undertaken within key countries in Africa, South America and within Asia (Bangladesh) where reforms on land tenure systems are ongoing under PRSP processes.[6]


Moreover, supplemental information from World Bank sources (for example, research confirming that greater tenure security in Pakistan increases land-specific investment on leased plots, which provides a convincing case to support the proposed research aims)[7], as well as that of other development agencies, will be utilized to make the case for making the PRSP process a more effective vehicle for land reform.


VI        Proposed Outcome


The research would not only highlight whether the PRSP process conceptually enables an alteration of agrarian tenancy arrangements, but also seek to identify examples of on-ground hurdles and successes emerging from implementation of these stated processes.[8] The research finding emerging from this work will be shared with a wide range of policy-makers, advocacy groups and key stakeholders within the World Bank itself, and with other key stakeholders including relevant government departments and civil society organizations, to further the goal of making the PRSP a more effective agent of altering tenure relations in poor developing countries. 






[1] By the last quarter of 2006, 78 low-income countries had become eligible for the IMF-World Bank’s Poverty Reduction Growth Facility.

[2] World Bank research accepts that market-assisted land reforms have failed in South Africa and Colombia. For details refer to the Policy Research Report of the World Bank on 'Land Institutions and Policy', available at:

[3] Gomes R, et al, 2005. PRSP – Politics, Power and Poverty, Economic Policy Empowerment Programme of European Network on Debt and Development, London.

[4] CPD, 2004. Finalization of the PRSP for Bangladesh; A review of the process and interim measures. Centre for Policy Dialogue, Dakha.

[5] Good contacts with these stakeholders were established during the IPF 2005-2006 research on participation in the PRSP. Both HRCP and SAP helped the fellow undertake research (in 4 and 6 districts respectively), which was beyond the scope of IPF budgetary activities. Both these reports are available at www.policy.hu/ali  

[6] These research trips are also vital for advocacy purposes. Subsequent to a trip to DC during the IPF fellowship, the researcher was able to initiate a series of Voice of America’s Urdu Service roundtable discussions on the PRSP, available at: www.policy.hu/ali  

[7] Jacoby, Hanan G. and Mansuri, Ghazala, "Incomplete Contracts and Investment: A Study of Land Tenancy in Pakistan" (February 1, 2006). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 3826 Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=922952

[8] Chaudary S. 2006, Report on consultations for the PRSP II, Daily Times, 7 May 2006. Available at: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2006%5C05%5C07%5Cstory_7-5-2006_pg5_9