Problems

Large parts of Afghanistan are affected by land degradation and desertification. Most of the country has been classified as having ‘degraded soil’, and an estimated 80% of land area in the country is at risk of soil erosion. Land degradation is mainly caused by overgrazing and deforestation, which in turn contributes to desertification [1]. According to the MAIL 2006 National Report, desertification in Afghanistan already affects more than 75% of the total land area in northern, western and southern regions [2]. Degradation and desertification present a significant risk to livestock grazing. Livestock products from rangelands form the basis of livelihoods for more than 80% of Afghan households [1].

The rangelands of Afghanistan occupy about 30 million hectares, representing roughly 45% of the country’s territory. Large areas considered as ‘barren land’ or ‘waste land’ are also used for grazing, particularly in winter and therefore, the total grazeable area in the country is much larger at an estimated 70-85% of the total land area. This area provides habitat and forage for nearly 35 million livestock as well as numerous wild animals. Unfortunately, the countries rangelands are in poor condition due to overgrazing, while competition between farms for the use of scarce productive rangelands is increasing [1].

Land disputes have long driven violent conflict in Afghanistan. Widespread poverty and a scarcity of productive land generates intense competition among communities, ethnicities, and tribes for land and resources. Disputes over access to land and water are a major source of intercommunal and intracommunal conflict and can have violent ramifications. These dynamics are exacerbated by historically unequal land distribution and periodic forced redistribution and resettlement of groups from particular ethnicities for political control [3].

Causes

Land degradation is mainly caused by overgrazing and deforestation, which in turn is one of the largest contributors to desertification in Afghanistan. Current rates of land degradation and desertification will be exacerbated by climate change, which is predicted to cause decreases in mean annual rainfall and increased temperatures [1].

Land disputes are a primary driver of conflict in Afghanistan. Population pressures, rapid urbanization, displacement and resettlement, and rising land value have increased competition for land since 2002 [3].

Higher property values have given rise to land grabbing and predatory behaviour among state actors and armed groups. Since the Bonn Agreement, the value of land has increased by more than 1,000 percent in key urban areas, due in part to rising investment by wealthy Afghans returning from abroad and in part to the influx of international military and development aid. Outside urban areas, the explosion in poppy cultivation has increased rural land value. Poppy cultivation has also taken over land previously available for agriculture and sapped irrigation sources, increasing rural land conflict [3].

Responses

Key policies and governance approach

In Afghanistan, land laws are complex and have several origins: religious (Shari’a), tribal or community customary law basis, a civil code drafted in the 1970s, and a series of statutory laws in the form of Presidentially passed decrees and acts passed by Parliament [4]. The main land policies and laws in Afghanistan include the National Land Policy, 2018; the Constitution, 2004; Land Management Law (LML), 2018; Land Acquisition Law, 2017; among others [5]. Primary responsibility for land administration falls with Afghanistan Independent Land Authority (ARAZI) [6].

The Constitution, 2004 does not directly address land rights despite considerable lobbying at the time to introduce a land chapter [4]. Based upon the 1964 Constitution, it retained classical commitments to protect private property and pay compensation prior to compulsory acquisition for public purposes. Its only innovation is to enable foreigners to lease lands [5].  

The National Land Policy, 2018 was endorsed by the Afghanistan Cabinet on May 03, 2018 [7]. Innovations from the previous (2007) policy include commitments to introduce community lands as a lawful and registrable category to cover for collectively owned customary lands; protection of rights during mining and other large enterprise; housing rights in cities to be supported; land grabbers to be harshly punished; new land valuation to be instituted; and new arrangements to be instituted to afford fair pasture access including by Kuchi [5].  

LML clarifies land classes; lists 11 documents eligible to be used in compulsory registration of private lands, including customarily-signed deeds of transfer; provides for local testimony to enable those without documents to secure titles; refines a two-stage titling procedure by provincial delegations for survey and adjudication, and allowing for community level conflict resolution; retracts on post-Bonn decentralization trends to districts (although devolved in urban areas); reiterates harsh punishments for land theft (by warlords, corrupt politicians, officials); and promises regulations for restitution of those usurped (‘stolen’) lands [5].  

Sustainable agriculture and livestock production, and natural resources management are top priorities in the country’s development. In 2007, an amendment of the existing Rangeland Law was drafted by MAIL aiming to provide an enhanced framework for the administration, management, and use of rangelands and rangeland resources in Afghanistan. Its purpose is to recognize and formalize the custodianship, management and use rights of communities and other users; establish a legal framework for bringing all rangelands under community custodianship; and define the regulatory, advisory and mediating role of the Government of Afghanistan in relation to pastures. The draft includes detailed provisions for the administration of rangelands, including ownership and user rights, conflict resolution and rationalization of access rights of private, community, and public rangelands. In addition to the Rangeland Law, MAIL developed a Rangeland Management Policy in 2012 to provide a framework and roadmap for the rehabilitation and protection of the country’s rangelands to ensure that they are used in a productive, sustainable, and equitable manner by both sedentary and migratory populations [1].

 

SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES

Despite legal and policy advances, administering and managing land in Afghanistan remains a major challenge. Returnees, armed actors, and powerful elites continue to engage in land grabbing, or ‘land usurpation’, and concomitant informal development in both urban and rural areas. At the same time, returnees from neighboring countries continue to arrive. Many people are seeking homes in cities due to continued insecurity and land usurpation, but land speculation has driven land and rent prices out of reach for these vulnerable people [6].

An increase in opium production, both in terms of area under cultivation and geographic spread of growing areas, is at least one factor contributing to rural insecurity. In 2016, less than 14% of the country's provinces reported as being free of poppy cultivation. Despite the fact that the Karzai government made opium poppy cultivation and trafficking illegal in 2002, many farmers continue to cultivate opium poppy to feed their families due to poverty [6].

Much of Afghanistan’s land is currently under communal land tenure. Consequently, various stakeholders have access to resources for both legal and illegal exploitation. These users have few incentives for ensuring the sustainability of resource consumption or for the conservation of resources and biodiversity. As a result, short‑term interests are prioritised at the expense of long‑term benefits. In addition, these resource users often have a limited understanding of the impacts of land and forest degradation on the sustainable production of ecosystem goods and services. An improved understanding of resource availability, along with enhanced, participatory planning mechanisms, would result in benefits of resource conservation being recognized and greater incentivisation of sustainable land use practices [1].

 

Initiatives and Development Plans

In 2018, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan officially launched the issuance of land occupancy certificates (OCs) for residents of informal urban areas. In a symbolic ceremony in the province of Herat, 500 Afghan households received the first occupancy certificates. The aim of the Occupancy Certificates (OC) initiative was to produce and issue one million occupancy certificates by 2020. This initiative is part of the City for All (CFA), a government-led programme technically supported by UN-Habitat. CFA supports twelve municipalities to survey and register all properties within their municipal boundaries.

With a growing urban population, a significant amount of internally displaced persons and returning refugees, the role of Afghan cities as catalyzers of economic and social development remains crucial. The issuance of occupancy certificates guarantees to informal urban dwellers the right to stay in their homes without a threat of eviction. The formal registration of informal properties will increase their value and promote economies of agglomeration. With the financial support of USAID and the EU, and the technical assistance of UN-Habitat, ARAZI opened the way to land reform in Afghanistan by guaranteeing security of tenure to all urban dwellers, including women [8]

 

Goals and Ambitions

Through decentralized urban planning and participatory urban governance, Afghanistan’s Urban National Priority Programme (U-NPP) aims to create a network of dynamic, safe, liveable urban centers that are hubs of economic growth and arenas of culture and social inclusion by 2024. The programme acknowledges that tenure insecurity, land grabbing and usurpation, uncontrolled planning, and informality are the norm, when it comes to land [9].

Opportunities

[1], [3], [10]

  • Urbanisation has been identified as one of the most significant drivers of change—and opportunities for change—and therefore should be a focus of the governmental agenda now and in the coming decades.
  • Improve understanding of resource availability, along with enhanced, participatory land use planning mechanisms.
  • More research is needed to understand the dynamics of desertification and land degradation, as presently there is only a superficial understanding of the levels of vulnerability and consequences in highly fragile arid and hyper-arid rangeland ecosystems in Afghanistan.
  • National cadastral mapping and land surveys are needed to clarify land ownership and user interests. Future mapping and surveying efforts must do more to engage communities in the process to ensure a fair, accurate, and legitimate titling and registration of land.
  • A range of community-based land registration processes are being applied globally. These models should be explored for possible application in Afghanistan. Future land registration needs to incorporate learning from land registration efforts that have already been tested, such as those implemented by international donors, such as USAID, ADB, and DFID.
  • Given the importance of community input, effort should be made to clarify the legality of Afghan state actors engaging with community-based forums. The ARAZI land dispute office should continue its efforts to develop cooperation with community-based actors.
  • To expand local outreach and registration, the internal capacity of local ARAZI offices needs to be increased. This will help ensure a clear understanding of its institutional mandate, the process of land registration, and the ability to carry out the necessary technical and administrative tasks to record land title.