Past, present and future perspectives


Land tenure in eastern Africa is a sensitive and complex issue. At independence, the countries in the sub-region established quite different tenure reforms, all aimed at improving productivity. For example, in Ethiopia, all land became public land, with leasing or sale of land being forbidden (FAO 2001c) whereas, in Kenya, the government pursued private ownership (Bruce, Subramanian, Knox, Bohrer and Leisz 1997). In both Kenya and Ethiopia, fragmentation of land parcels through subdivision has reduced the average farm size to less than 1 ha in many areas. This has the result that fallow periods have been reduced or are omitted altogether, in order to produce sufficient quantities to meet the needs of the family. In spite of these policies, the countries of the sub-region have all suffered impediments to large-scale agricultural development, and the majority of the population are small-scale farmers (Bruce and others 1997).

The nomadic herdsmen of the Horn of Africa have suffered extreme marginalization and reduced food security since the colonial governments seized control of all central rangelands and, later, reallocated them for mechanized farming, expansion of irrigated agriculture and declaration of wildlife reserves (see Box 2f.4). Thus, the herdsmen have greatly reduced access to fodder, and are frequently also denied access to crop residues in farming areas, except in return for a fee. Cropping has extended steadily, woodcutting in former pasture areas has been sanctioned, nomadic routes have been disturbed and watersources have not been maintained (DFID 1999). The lack of institutional support for nomadic pastoralists has further excluded their participation in decision making or land use planning (DFID 1999).

Box 2f.4 Conflicts in land use due to land policy failures

Many of Kenya's major wildlife reserves are in traditional pastoral areas (for example,Maasailand and Samburu). The livestock belonging to the indigenous pastoralists (the Maasai and Samburu tribes) are excluded from the parks, because conservation areas were established under colonial rule, and the prevailing philosophy was to preserve and to protect the land from human activities. However, this results in restrictions on important grazing areas (including springs and other water sources) and disrupts traditional management practices. At the same time, the parks are not fenced and the wild animals are not herded. Therefore, they are able to leave the reserves at certain times of the year and to graze in the same areas as livestock. This means that the areas outside of the reserves incur additional pressure - from the livestock that can no longer migrate into the neighbouring reserves, and from the game that migrates out of the reserve. The impact of the wildlife is also greater than that of the cattle, as they have 'extended grazing hours', feeding throughout the night, whereas cattle are kept in enclosures

Source: Sindiga 1999, personal communication,Ole Kamuaro Ololtisatti, Purko Maasai

Governments are recognizing that central control of land and agricultural resources is limited by capacities and resources, and that land policy reform is needed to encourage the formation of farms of viable size, for sustainability and growth of agricultural output (FAO 2001c). In addition, just as state ownership has not yielded the anticipated growth in agricultural production, private ownership has also shown little benefit to increasing production, largely as a result of market failures. Therefore, market reform must go hand in hand with tenure reform (Bruce and others 1997). Policy-makers are also reforming attitudes towards communal land tenure and access, and realizing that, under certain conditions, communal systems provide security of tenure, environmental and production sustainability, and conflict avoidance (Bruce and others 1997). However, this transformation has been slow, and is still experiencing opposition in some countries. In Kenya, for example, individual titling is still regarded as the political and social ideal and, therefore, claims to communally owned land are often thrown out of court. This has led to land grabbing, or illegal occupancy in some areas, notably in urban areas and state forests (DFID 1999). Means for strengthening the voice of community groups include the decentralization of political power and the formation of natural resource use councils, comprised of community members (DFID 1999). In Uganda, the new Land Act (1998) combines objectives of agricultural productivity and equity by promoting democratization and good governance with some redistribution of land rights. Implementation of the Land Act (1998) has been hindered by lack of an overall land policy, and by insufficient strategic planning, limited resources and capacity, and widespread corruption (DFID 1999).

A further consideration in land reform is the issue of gender. Although women are responsible for most household and commercial agricultural production (FAO 2001b), their rights to own land are severely diminished, being largely through husbands or fathers (Bruce and others 1997). Governments' recognition of women's rights, and the issue of gender reform, have not progressed as far in eastern Africa as in southern Africa, although Burundi, Eritrea and Ethiopia are starting to encourage the inheritance of land by women, and the allocation of land to couples to create household holdings (Bruce and others 1997).