Land tenure systems and their impacts on food security and sustainable development in Africa

Land tenure systems and their impacts on food security and sustainable development in Africa

How do land tenure systems impact on food security?

Recent food security crises in Africa have revived the debate on whether current land tenure systems constrain farmer innovation and investment in agriculture. Both direct and indirect linkages between land tenure and food security have been suggested. This study aims for a better understanding of these linkages. Specifically it aims:

  • to improve the current understanding of the linkages between land tenure systems, food security and sustainable natural resource management in Africa
  • to assess the current land tenure policy reforms in selected African countries
  • to draw lessons based on best practices as well as failures of ongoing and past policies
  • to make policy recommendations to assist States in addressing issues of land reform implementation and hence improve their food security situation and the stewardship of natural resources.

The paper suggests that land is central in promoting rural livelihoods in Africa. Access to land and security of tenure are the main means through which food security and sustainable development can be realised because the livelihoods of over 70% of the population in Africa are primarily linked to land and natural resources exploitation.

The paper presents a number of models developed to explore the complex linkages between different types of tenure. The authors develop their view that with some local variation, the legacy of colonial land policies in Africa has led to existing forms of customary land tenure being either ignored, overridden or reformulated for the convenience of the colonising power. These then create new and artificial class and ethnic divisions amongst the indigenous populations. They conclude that it is the resultant dual, unequal and hierarchical system of land tenure that present land reform initiatives seek to redress. However those reforms that have been implemented have largely been inadequate and have been fraught with tensions between user groups and different land-uses.

Other findings include:

  • unequal land distribution is closely linked to poor utilisation of land which in turn is linked to food insecurity and conflict
  • tenure insecurity arises from rapid socioeconomic change disrupting customary institutions and from excessive government interference in customary tenure systems. It is pervasive among women under all tenure systems
  • rapid population growth remains a key trigger of the chain of environmental problems and de-facto tenure changes, development of (illegal) land markets, increasing encroachment of agricultural activity into marginal areas and the high incidence of conflicts over land and other natural resources
  • where security of tenure is weak in general, livelihoods can be constrained. Thus tenure remains key for improving land management practices
  • recent land tenure policy reforms that have been developed from more participatory processes, are more comprehensive in scope, and have generally affirmed more rights for individual citizens and fewer rights for the State
  • in land distribution reforms, market assisted redistribution and preventative restrictions on land market transactions have not worked well. Taxation can be effective but must be part of a broader land distribution programme

The study findings were presented as a background paper to an expert group meeting held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in April 2003, and the final paper has been revised according to the recommendations of this group.

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