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Nicaragua: Indigenous Peoples' Land Demarcation and Titling

Last Updated: Sept 2009
IDA at Work: Indigenous Peoples’ Land Demarcation and Titling in Nicaragua


Most of Nicaragua’s indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples, with their considerable ethnic and cultural diversity, live in the Caribbean region of Nicaragua, known as the Atlantic Coast. Although the area is rich in natural resources, almost 80 percent of its population faces extreme poverty. The advance of the agricultural frontier, immigration, population resettlement after the armed conflict, and uncontrolled development have put pressure on natural resources and land occupation patterns. As a result, land conflicts and inter-ethnic rivalry have increased. For many years, the lack of an institutional and legal framework made it difficult for indigenous and afro-descendent communities to have their rights to land and natural resources formally recognized and their territories demarcated and titled.


Drawing upon World Bank studies which highlighted the connection between land tenure security and poverty reduction, the government moved to improve the legal, institutional and technical framework for the administration of property rights in Nicaragua, beginning with rural areas where most of the country’s poor live.

Recognizing indigenous peoples’ land rights in the Caribbean required an innovative and unique approach, taking into account traditional decision-making and consultation structures, collective tenure arrangements and communal use of natural resources, as well as the culture and worldview of indigenous peoples. Many community leaders have been involved in the demarcation process, which follows a participatory methodology emphasizing conflict resolution. The demarcation itself is a challenging task, requiring arduous work in often remote and isolated areas.


The institutional and legal framework for recognizing indigenous peoples’ land rights has been strengthened and land titling is proceeding apace.

- Among other laws and decrees, two critical laws were successfully passed by the National Assembly: the Communal Property Regime for Indigenous and Ethnic Communities on the Atlantic Coast and the Bocay, Coco and Indio Maíz Rivers (Law 445, December 2002); and the National Cadastre Law (Law 509, November 2004).

- The land titling process has thus far provided tenure security and/or use rights to those who are not indigenous or Afro-descendants and do not form part of the communal system but who live in these territories. Law 445 also contemplates conflict resolution processes among the communities in the region and among these and third parties.

- As of July 2009, 9 territories have been duly demarcated, titled and registered, covering an area of more than 10,000 km2. A total of 53,000 inhabitants, mainly Miskito and Mayangna, living in 123 communities have benefited from land demarcation and titling.

- The titling of Awas Tigni (733.94 km2), one of the 9 territories titled so far, represents a historical achievement. In 2001, this community had won a case against the Nicaragua government in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights demanding recognition of its collective land rights. In December 2008, with the support of the Project, Awas Tigni was finally titled.

- Another 6 territories belonging to indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples are due to be demarcated, titled and registered by 2010.

- The Project is also supporting the preparation of territorial management plans with participation of the communities, their leaders and authorities. These plans will help guide future investments in energy, transport and access to secure water in four of the poorest territories.


- IDA committed US$32.6 million equivalent to help finance the Land Administration Project (known as PRODEP). The rest of Project costs (estimated at US$38.5 million) is being financed by the Nordic Development Fund (EUR5.5 million) and counterpart funding from the Government of Nicaragua.

- The Project was designed and has been implemented following applicable World Bank safeguard policies. Application of these policies has guided the preparation of manuals and guides used for the actual demarcation process, and helped ensure broad consensus and participation during this process.

- In the case of land regularization on the Pacific coast, where the legal framework is not yet as conducive to recognizing indigenous peoples’ rights, Bank safeguard policies under the Project are helping promote progress by Nicaragua on sensitive issues such as acknowledging the existence of indigenous populations and finding feasible ways to recognize their land claims.


Co-financing by the Nordic Development Fund (EUR5.5 million)

Next Steps

- IDA is preparing to commit another US$10 million in late 2009 to continue the work of PRODEP. Some of the new municipalities proposed for inclusion under the additional financing have indigenous populations seeking recognition of their land rights.

- A new operation (supported by a DFID trust fund managed by the World Bank) will soon finance a multi-sectoral investment plan in four of the poorest territories. The investments in energy, transport and access to secure water will be based on territorial development plans developed under PRODEP.

Learn More

Land Administration Project (PRODEP, 2002-2010)
Project Documents

For more information, please visit the Projects website.

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