Mainstream adherence to land titling as a strategy to address rural poverty has gained even more sway against the backdrop of the contemporary phenomenon of large-scale farmland acquisitions, known to some as “global land grabbing”. The orthodox narrative, embraced in toto by organisations such as the World Bank, is that formal property rights mitigate the risks of these land acquisitions and allow the poor to access the benefits of these acquisitions. This paper attempts to critically investigate this narrative by problematising the land titling–land grabbing nexus under the lens of adverse incorporation. Situating the study in a bio-ethanol plantation in Isabela province, Philippines, the research compared two groups of small-holder farmers: one group with titles and another without titles. Initial findings show, firstly, that land titles do not neutralise the risks of adverse incorporation for farmers in highly-asymmetrical agrarian societies or protect against the market pressures that bear upon these farmers and secondly, that titles may, in fact, have a lubricating rather than insulating function—drawing title-holders into the global value chain and compromising their prospects for more equitable, pro-poor outcomes. In conclusion, the paper proposes a recasting of the land titling paradigm: viewing land titles not as apparatuses with invariant outcomes, but as contested tools for truly meaningful rights assertions.

, , , ,
Erasmus University Rotterdam
ISS Working Papers - General Series
ISS Working Paper Series / General Series
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Jaye de la Cruz, R. (2012). Land title to the tiller. Why it’s not enough and how it’s sometimes worse (No. 534). ISS Working Paper Series / General Series (Vol. 534, pp. 1–46). Retrieved from