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Mission Statement

Mission: The mission of Terra Institute is to support community activities for securing equitable access to land and its sustainable use and for resolving related resource issues.

Goal: Terra supports knowledge and capacity building initiatives, action research and innovative methodologies for addressing asset based community development. Terra strengthens community linkages with governments, donors, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, trade and professional entities and for-profit organizations.

Core Values
  • We are dedicated to secure and equitable access to the land. More equitable access to land includes improving the rights of the disadvantaged in today’s world as well as assuring the rights of future generations.
  • We practice transparency in our work, meaning simply, we do what we say we will do, and we make the process of the work and the outcomes visible to all.
  • We seek to work for and empower the disadvantaged to advance social justice.
  • We work to leave a legacy upon which to build by cooperating with local expertise and institutions.

Statement of Capability

Terra Institute is a Wisconsin (USA) based 501(c)3 non-profit organization, established in 1974, with core activities focused on issues of land tenure, land policy reform, land administration and management, immovable property registration, environmental protection, natural resources management and peaceful conflict resolution. Since its inception, Terra Institute has undertaken research, technical assistance and training projects throughout the world with special concentration in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean and most recently, Native American communities (Menominee Nation). The activities are guided by the consequences of governmental and systemic changes, upheaval from political and social conflicts, reconstruction following war or natural disasters and the motivation to improve technological and institutional development. All projects have in common a commitment to empower people to deal with land issues in order to better their lives.

Terra also conducts training programs for foreign visitors to the United States. Topics include land tenure issues, natural resource management, forestry, environmental protection, rural and urban land use controls, soil erosion control, cooperative practices, business organization, economics of agriculture and best farming practices.

History of TERRA

Established in 1974, Terra Institute has been providing technical assistance, research, and training projects throughout the world. In the 1980’s Terra worked with the Inter-American Development Bank and the Government of Jamaica on the design of one of the first land titling projects supported by the Bank. Institutional issues affecting the evolution of community based organizations were addressed in a series of studies of Catholic Relief Services humanitarian assistance programs in South America and the Caribbean. Another project explored the effects of the agrarian reform and other factors on local government capacities for guiding local infrastructure investments in Egypt.

One of the principal activities of Terra over the years has been assisting with the formation and development of local non-profit action research and policy organizations concerned with land tenure issues. Terra began as part of an effort to build a land tenure action research center in Santiago, Chile, known initially as the Center for Rural Cooperative Development, (CENDERCO) and subsequently as the Agrarian Research Group, (GIA), which produced important policy studies and programs during the 1970s and 1980s dealing with agrarian reform cooperatives, tenure and nutrition, rural development and land tenure issues. This work produced people with policy study background who provided some of the important inputs into the democratic governments of the 1990’s. Also during that period, Terra mentored the formation of the Wisconsin Rural Development Center which advocated for over 20 years for the development of family farms in Wisconsin.

This tradition was continued in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia in the year 2000 when Terra undertook a multi-year project to assist in the development of the very important Association for the Protection of Landowners’ Rights. The primary focus initially was on the provision of secure titles to 1.4 million agricultural land parcels and the development of land markets. Today, that Association is active in numerous projects and policy debates concerning land tenure issues in Georgia.

In Albania Terra worked with the Project Management Unit (PMU) for Land Market Development Project on a series of land tenure policy studies dealing with the design of the Immovable Property Registration System, regional land use planning, measures to inhibit land degradation, property taxation, and the formation of associations of land market related professionals. The PMU was an active participant in national debates on these issues for several years, and many of the Albanian participants in the policy debate continue today working on resolving important land tenure issues.

Terra has encouraged the preparation and publication of analytical reports on land tenure and land administration issues in all of its projects. Terra has also encouraged participants in its projects to collect publications on land questions in the countries where Terra has had projects and facilitated their donation to the Steenbock Library of the University of Wisconsin. Many of the project reports are housed on this website. Other reports and papers are available upon request from Terra.

In Afghanistan Terra collaborated with the Danish firm Scanagri and the Afghan NGO Cooperation for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan in designing and piloting a community based method for community consensus to document the legitimate users of rangeland. This project led Terra to re-emphasize its focus on community tenure issues.

In Ethiopia Terra is supporting a legal education program managed by the University of Alabama. This project has helped Terra focus on its educational activities concerning land tenure issues.

Reflecting on these “lessons”, in 2009 Terra made a significant shift of emphasis with its new Building Bridges Program, involving the piloting of a community based journalism program in rural Mozambique, and the design and piloting of a Talking Circles program aimed at educating young people and community leaders about Indian/Non-Indian tensions over land ownership and use in Wisconsin.

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