In their widely read discussion paper, the FAO, IFAD, UNCTAD and World Bank propose systematic property rights formalization – “the identification of rights holders, the legal recognition of rights and uses, and their demarcation and registration” – as a central first step in addressing the problem of irresponsible agricultural investment. This paper examines the case of Cambodia, one of at least a dozen countries where systematic land titling and large-scale land grabbing have proceeded in parallel in recent years. Cambodia’s experience exemplifies the challenges of what I call the “formalization fix”, and highlights the geography of land titling (and property formalization more generally) as a question that, despite substantial debate in Cambodia, has yet to receive adequate attention internationally. Examining three dimensions of Cambodia’s less-than-successful “formalization fix” efforts – (i) the spatial separation of systematic land titling and agribusiness concessions; (ii) the fact that property formalization can also be a means of land grabbing; and (iii) the political arena of efforts to legitimize “state land” – this paper questions the formalization fix as a policy solution, argues that the problem of unmapped state land needs to be addressed head on, and calls for greater geographical transparency in property formalization efforts in the global South.
Dwyer, M.B. LDPI Working Paper 37. The Formalization Fix? Land titling, state land concessions, and the politics of geographical transparency in contemporary Cambodia. The Land Deal Politics Initiative, (2013) 33 pp.