Sunday, January 18, 2015

Property rights are central to alleviating poverty, but does ownership really matter?

The common understanding of property rights and its link to economic growth is built on the importance of ownership in rural contexts. But what urban dwellers really need is security and legitimacy of property.

Dhaka is already home to over 15 million people and continues to grow daily.
Bangladesh is one of the most crowded countries in the world.  It should come as no surprise that land is a scarce resource in high demand.  For generations, people have viewed land as an asset, often one that enables them to generate income.  Land ownership potentially enables people to make money and increase their wealth.  Additionally, it signals a status of legitimacy and stability, which is also extremely important. The ultra-poor tend to be those that own at most a tiny piece of land, too small for farming.

Bangladeshis are desperate for ownership and access to land.  Women have far less access generally, with just an estimated 2% of agricultural land in Bangladesh belonging to women.  In a largely agricultural economy, access to land largely determines the ability to generate income.  Land ownership historically has been a key strategy for generating wealth.  Therefore, the denial of property rights (and the implied ability to access and control one's land) enables all of the other conditions that contribute to poverty.   This issue has been in the international media more recently because of large land deals for private developers that are conducted without consultation or consent of the communities who own the land.  Most experts conclude that these forced evictions largely result in increased risk of poverty, food security, and more.