The first ever meeting of African Land Commissioners opened in Accra Monday with Ghana’s Lands and Natural Resources Minister, John-Peter Amewu, lamenting the extreme levels of poverty in some parts of the continent despite the availability of vast arable land resources.
In his opening address to the Land Commissioners, senior government officials, representatives of civil society and others attending the meeting on how the continent can secure community land rights, the minister described the situation as alarming.
“While we have most land suitable for agriculture, our productivity gap turns to be the highest,” he said in a speech read on his behalf by his deputy.
“We see land ownership inequalities and landlessness growing in several African countries and women, as majority primary producers, are constrained by customary laws.”
He added arable land on the continent, forests and wet land were being degraded at an alarming rate while there’s a high rise in ‘urban slums that undermine urban developments and poverty reduction efforts’.
“It is recognized that land issues and systems are very diverse and complex and therefore there’s need for comprehensive policies to guide the access, utilization and management of land resources within our various countries,” he said, adding it was heart-warming that this declaration was being moved forward by the Economic Commission for Africa(ECA), the African Union Commission (AUC) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) through the Land Policy Initiative.
The LPI is a joint programme of the tripartite consortium and its main purpose is to support African countries come up with policies that promote fair and equitable distribution of land resources and lend impetus to the development process on the continent.
Mr. Amewu shared with the participants Ghana’s initiatives in trying to secure community land rights.
Lessons across Africa suggest that the integration of customary land regimes into formal land governance systems are equally not uniform
“These efforts at reform in land administration in Ghana strongly recognize the fundamental role of customary land,” he said. “Our experiences confirm the sheer diversity and complexity of dealing with land and what this calls for is a constant effort at consultation, collaboration and commitment to agreements reached.”
In her welcoming speech, Janet Edeme, Head of Rural Division in the Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture at the AUC, said land was at the heart of the political, social and economic development of most African states, where majority of the populations rely heavily on agriculture and natural resource use for most of their livelihood.
Customary land tenure systems remain the dominant tenure regime in the entire continent constituting on average 70 percent of the bulk of land rights in every country and, supporting multiple livelihood strategies.
She said customary land regimes are not uniform but vary from community to community hence the importance of the workshop in tackling some of these issues.
“Lessons across Africa suggest that the integration of customary land regimes into formal land governance systems are equally not uniform,” said Ms. Edeme.
Training in effective land administration, capacity development of traditional authorities on large-scale land-based investments, negotiations for government lawyers and related issues is crucial, she added as she enunciated the work being done by the LPI on the continent.
Solange Bandiaky-Badji, of The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a global coalition of organizations working to encourage forest land tenure and policy reforms, said at both regional and country level, community land rights are integral to land reform processes.
“A large share of national land area in sub-Saharan Africa is held under customary or traditional forms of land ownership in practice,” she said.
At the end of the workshop organizers hope to have a critical mass of land commissions capacitated to lead land reforms in Africa; articulate and agree on key challenges, opportunities and a regional agenda for securing local communities’, women’s, and Indigenous Peoples’ land rights.
Participants are from Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.