In early July 2019, the LANDac, the Netherlands Land Academy, Annual International conference took place in Utrecht, the Netherlands. This conference serves as a forum of sharing ideas, experiences, and practices among policymakers, academics, researchers, and people from the world of business, who are experts in land governance and development because LANDac believes multi-stakeholder engagement and participatory approach is the best way to ensure human well-being is at the center of the land agenda. The theme for this year was, "Land Governance in Transition: How to support transformations that work for people and nature?"

The conference approached land issues through the lens of transformations and tackled topics such as: dissecting the long term dynamics on land, and how that relates to basic human needs—water and food production. Furthermore, it grappled with the question of how land governance is changing in a fast-transforming world, and what past and current experiences and practices can be used to better adapt to these changes. The conference also addressed how to identify and use the right knowledge to forge partnerships with various agents: from individuals in local communities to national—public or private— organizations, to international ones. Additionally, it dealt with the intersection between land governance and tenure, gender, food and water security, sustainable development, poverty alleviation, and peacebuilding.

In this conference, two members of Habitat for Humanity International participated. One of the participants was Ram Prakash Singh Danuwar, of Habitat for Humanity Nepal, and the other was Susi Suseela, of Habitat for Humanity India. It was a valuable experience for both Habitat for Humanity participants to be involved in this conference to provide opportunities of peer learning through relationship building with individuals from different organizations, as well as expand their knowledge on land governance. 

On the topic of land governance, it was of importance to see the emphasis put on the changes that are affecting the relationship between land and people. Migration shapes some of these dynamics. Lack of access to land constitutes one of the main migratory reasons. But, also, migration leads to new claims for land; thus, this calls for new policies on how local and national governing bodies address land issues. Another reason for many of the migratory movements that societies are facing today is the relationship between land and climate change. Climate directly impacts land and agriculture; hence, many people have to uproot their lives in order to have access to better land. This is an important issue which calls for reflection and response in areas, such as, contributing toward a social environment where responsible investing can lead to equitable and inclusive urban and rural development.

New technological ways of conceptualizing land governance was another matter discussed at the conference. Technology developers have been working on new ways of creating 3D models of terrestrial digital photogrammetry. Mobile phone-based data collection tools, in combination with smart software, can be used to create 3D models of, say, cadaster mapping—whereas, conventional methods do not allow this. These technological innovations allow people to have a better and more accurate comprehension of the land, are less expensive than manual mapping, and are more easily accessible.

Women’s land rights was another important issue discussed in the conference. In many countries all over the world, women face restrictions on land ownership. This reduces their ability to thrive and empower themselves when such barriers exist. It also makes them dependent and vulnerable to the landowner—usually a male figure, such as their father, brother, husband, and so on. Based on anecdotal group discussions on challenges that women face in accessing, owning, controlling, and retaining land, it appears that a discrepancy exists between the application of the laws that govern land rights for women and the application of customary practices. In countries such as Uganda, Ethiopia, India, and Nepal, while statutory law dictates that women have equal access to land ownership, the actual implementation and protection of those rights are not sufficiently maintained due to conflicting customary, cultural or religious practices. In many instances, women do not have the right resources to challenge customary practices through the official adjunction process, but they also fear exclusion and discrimination from traditional leaders. Therefore it is important to achieve systematic change that leads to equal land rights. This can be achieved by finding common ground with people who do not support equitable land rights, as equitable land rights does not mean their existing land rights are at jeopardy, but rather their whole community can benefit from such changes. enhances the communities they live in.

Following such an opportunity to share knowledge, challenges and best practices, both Habitat for Humanity representatives took learnings back to their respective organization and partner organizations. Opportunities such as the LANDac summer course provide Habitat for Humanity to continue to strengthen knowledge and experience around land rights and build relationships, ultimately improving our ability to provide decent and safe housing for families in India and Nepal, as well as Brazil, Zambia and Poland.