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Assessing the impact of major land reforms on livelihood opportunities for the poor

Paper submitted to the New Directions in Impact Assessment Conference

Julian Quan, Edward Lahiff, Su Fei Tan

November 2003

SARPN acknowledges the following website as the source of this draft paper:
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A major historical weakness of redistributive land reforms has been their frequent failure to create conditions for sustainable farm and other enterprises managed by land reform communities, as a result of problems of integration with wider local social, economic and environmental planning. However the methods of impact assessment currently applied to land reforms by governments and development agencies have not been designed to enable improvements in land reform policies and planning. In seeking to evaluate and assess programmes impacts, governments and development agencies have generally applied quantitative, statistical methods in order to assess the rate and costs of land transfers, and measure changes in incomes, or welfare of beneficiaries. These approaches, however, neglect two critical dimensions:

  • the perspectives of land reform beneficiaries themselves, and those of the civil society organisations involved in advocating for and delivering land reforms; and
  • the need to assess the linkage and follow up of land access programmes with programmes to deliver basic infrastructure, services, plus technical and marketing support.
By way of background, this paper reviews briefly the development significance of land reform in socially unequal countries, and the main features and current context of land reform programmes in Brazil1 and South Africa. We then examines and critically assesses the methods applied to assess impacts of land reform programmes in each country, and the broad findings and results that recent studies commissioned by the respective governments have delivered2. In each case we contrast these with the approaches deployed by independent civil society evaluations of the same programmes.

The paper then explores how participatory approaches to land reform impact assessment might be further developed, involving beneficiaries themselves, land reform movements, rural unions, NGOs and other local actors. The paper concludes by considering how participatory approaches to impact assessment might be integrated into more formal governmental systems for monitoring and evaluation of land reforms, and the benefits that this can bring in terms of sustainable social and economic impact at local level, together with stronger social accountability and control.

  1. The general discussion of land reform in Brazil is based primarily on the principal author’s direct experience and project literature collected and generated through work in Brazil by DFID.
  2. The discussion of Monitoring and Evaluation of land reform in South Africa is drawn substantially from applied research by PLAAS, University of Western Cape to assess the progress of land reforms, and review the government M&E systems and studies commissioned by the Department for Land Affairs. For Brazil, the authors did not have access to parallel information about government based monitoring, and the discussion is based largely on available Brazilian literature, including that commissioned by government for evaluation purposes.

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