Unlocking Land for Microenteprise Growth

Unlocking Land for Microenterprise Growth (ULMEG) Project



Project Team:

Dr Andrew Charman

Thireshen Govender (UrbanWorks)

Caitlin Tonkin

Collaborators: Development practitioners and academic researchers.

Funders: South African Breweries.



The Project advances the achievements of the Foundation’s Formalising Informal Micro-Enterprises (FIME) Project. The FIME project developed an important repository of data and new knowledge on the workings of informal microenterprises in South African townships. Over five years, the FIME project has identified some of the major constraints to microenterprise growth. One of these constraints relates to land.

Land constraints and market rigidities affect enterprise development in several respects. We have identified five areas where land issues have a strong impact. These are:

  • Absence of land, insufficient access to land and non-availability of land for commercial development.
  • Land tenure insecurity, including the non-issue of land titles.
  • Inflexible land use plans (zoning) and land management laws (including by-laws).
  • Poor alignment between micro-enterprise business requirements and municipal development initiatives.
  • Land market rigidity and system failures.

We believe that addressing the cause of these problems would benefit micro-enterprises. The Unlocking Land for Microenterprise Growth Project (ULMEG) seeks to achieve change through influencing policy makers and thought leaders to reshape policies towards land use management processes and strengthen the formulation of development plans to support businesses.

To achieve policy shift, the UMLEG project will consolidate an evidence base around the land use problem and thereby provide a clear set of messages around: i) why there is need for change in the township land system?, ii) how township businesses can benefit from change?, iii) what can be done (at different levels of government) to achieve short-term and long-term results?  The project will use new evidence as well as existing knowledge to initiate a process of policy engagement.  

Core components:

The project will produce the following outcomes:

  • A comprehensive desk-top study into the state of knowledge on land rigidities and constraints in the township context. The study will address the different contexts (and settlement types) of township land management. The research will examine: i) legal frameworks, ii) institutional constraints, iii) structural obstacles, iv) market conditions, v) municipal development planning approaches and vi) constitutional issues. In relation to this, a working draft paper on land use management in South Africa can be found here.
  • A series of spatial studies drawing on case site evidence to document land use rigidities in specific sectors, namely: i) liquor retailing, ii) street trading, iii) grocery retailing / food service and iv) micro-manufacturing. Case studies will examine land constraints within particular spatial contexts, highlighting land availability, zoning and issues of tenure security.
  • A report on land use management development strategies, examining 3 different contexts to assess their impact and lessons learnt. New research will be conducted.
    • A study of the high street concentration of leisure economy activities in Katutura, Windhoek, Namibia. The report of this study can be found here, and the preliminary impact assessment here.
    • A study of township land use constraints in Ivory Park. The land challenges will be analysed in a design syndicate workshop with the aim to mobilise a high level panel of exports to provide recommendations on how to unlock the identified land obstacles.
    • A study of the impact of planning techniques and urban design on the immediate and broader social environment for microenterprise activities and livelihoods, focusing on the case of Harare township, Khayelitsha.  
  • A participatory action learning intervention, using digital stories, to document the actual experiences of individual microentrepreneurs in their efforts to respond to the land use constraints which impact on their business. The component will focus on the impact of land use zoning as an obstacle to business formalisation in the township context.
  • The formulation of policy recommendations and actions at national, provincial and municipal levels.
  • A public exhibition event through which the Project will engage a range of high-level stakeholders to share knowledge and embed policy recommendations in a contextual understanding of the cause and effects of inappropriate land policies.
  • A series of presentations (both public and private) to mentor policy makers and thought leaders to understand the problem situation and provide guidance on appropriate strategic action to address land constraints / rigidities.  


The project will be implemented over 24 months. The project commenced on the 1st February 2016 and is scheduled to conclude on the 1st February 2018.