Footsteps 105 - Land rights

Footsteps 105 explores land rights – why are they important and what can we do to protect them?

Editor's note

Zoe Murton

I moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2017. Before arriving, I did some reading about the history of the country. 

Back in the 1880s, King Leopold of Belgium decided to take the land now known as DRC for himself. He sent an explorer to make ‘treaties’ with the local chiefs, who often did not understand what they were signing. The treaties involved them giving away the land their people were living on, sometimes for as little as a few beads or brass rods. King Leopold then forced the local people to work as slaves, harvesting rubber and other natural resources for him. They were treated brutally and reduced to terrible poverty. 

As brave individuals within and outside of Congo began to realise what was happening, they launched an international campaign. They raised awareness of the injustices being committed and called for change. Eventually, King Leopold was forced to give up his control of the country in 1908.  

I have been reflecting on the history of DRC while preparing this edition on land rights. Sadly, we still live in a world where ‘land grabs’ are common. But thankfully, there are still brave individuals standing up against corruption and greed, fighting for the land rights of vulnerable people. 

This edition looks at why secure land rights are important in order for individuals and communities to thrive. It features an inspirational story from Honduras about indigenous communities gaining land rights after 25 years of advocacy. We include ideas for resolving conflicts over land, and advice on how to handle an investor approaching your community. We look at ways of working towards women’s land rights and methods for improving slums.  

Land rights are incredibly complex. Often there may be no straightforward solutions, or it may take many years to achieve fair outcomes. But secure land rights are central to helping to release people from poverty around the world. As we continue to reflect on the biblical concept of jubilee for Tearfund’s 50th birthday, we need to remember that a fair distribution of land was always part of God’s plan for the world.

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Footsteps articles

Footsteps 105: Land rights. A community's right to decide.

A community’s right to decide

A poster explaining the seven steps a community should take when an investor wants access to their land (PDF).

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In the Old Testament, God wanted the land to be divided fairly so that each family could make a decent living. Illustration from Petra Röhr-Rouendaal, Where there is no artist (second edition)

Bible study: A radical vision of God’s justice

How should God’s commandments in the Old Testament challenge the way we think about land and justice today?

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Most rural women depend on the land but lack secure rights to it. Illustration from Petra Röhr-Rouendaal, Where there is no artist (second edition)

Bible study: The daughters of Zelophehad

What does this little-known Bible passage tell us about women and land rights?

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Children's zone: Enough land for everyone

Children’s zone: Enough land for everyone

A page of fun activities for children, to download and share (PDF).

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Justin Welby. Photo: Lambeth Palace/Picture Partnership


News, views and a ‘knotty problem’.

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The internet can be a good source of legal information, if we know where to look. Photo: Andrew Philip

How can I know my legal rights?

By finding out relevant laws relating to land, communities can strengthen their advocacy efforts.

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How can we strengthen women’s land rights? Photo: Will Baxter/Tearfund

How can we strengthen women’s land rights?

Practical ideas for helping women to gain rights to land and natural resources.

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The indigenous peoples of La Mosquitia depend on the land, forest and rivers for food and resources. Photo: Geoff Crawford/Tearfund

Indigenous land rights in Honduras

After 25 years’ struggle, the indigenous people of La Mosquitia were finally granted secure land rights.

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Women and children from the Palaung tribe. Photo: UHDP

Interview: The land is our life and future

Bunsak Thongdi discusses his work with the hill tribes of northern Thailand.

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Bimala Kami and her husband, Lalbir, were the  rst couple in their district to get a certi cate of joint land ownership. Photo: United Mission to Nepal

Joint land ownership in Nepal

The inspiring story of how United Mission to Nepal helped rural women gain access to land.

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The whole community should be involved in making decisions about potential investors. Illustration from Petra Röhr-Rouendaal, Where there is no artist (second edition)

Negotiating with investors

Practical ways community facilitators can help communities negotiate with investors.

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A woman explains the importance of guarding against future intrusions on her community’s common land. Photo: Land Equity Movement in Uganda

Practical ways to resolve land conflicts

Helpful tips on how to prepare for and resolve conflicts over land.

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Photo: Maarten van den Heuvel


A selection of books, websites and training material about land rights.

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By 2020, 1.4 billion people could be living in slums. Photo: Francesca Quirke/Tearfund

Slums and the struggle for security

Dr Viv Grigg shares his experiences of helping slum dwellers gain secure tenure and better services.

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Slums like this favela in Brazil often lack basic services such as sanitation and drainage. Photo: Eleanor Bentall/Tearfund

Transforming slums

What is slum upgrading, and how can it be achieved?

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Access to the land and its resources is vital for people’s livelihoods. Photo: Layton Thompson/Tearfund

Why are land rights important?

Securing and protecting vulnerable people’s land rights is essential for bringing about a fair and prosperous society.

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