Securing Land Rights and Tenure Security amid Increasing Pressure from Large Scale Agricultural Investment in Tanzania

By Godfrey Eliseus Massay, January 2015

The Land Policy Initiative (LPI) organized the Inaugural Conference on Land Policy in Africa from 11 to 14 November 2014 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The conference carried a key theme “The next decade of land policy in Africa: ensuring agricultural development and inclusive growth.” This theme was selected in support of the declaration of 2014 by the African Union as the “Year of Agriculture and Food Security in Africa”. I attended the conference on behalf of Tanzania Natural Resource Forum (TNRF) and have gathered number of key points that can be used by members of TNRF and many other actors in the country. Throughout the conference issues that relate to land tenure, sustainable large-scale investment, small-scale farming, rights of the commons and women rights were given more attention.

TNRF and its members and other stakeholders in the country can benefit from the following points:

Promote and adopt Regional and International Voluntary Guidelines: There have been commendable efforts taken by the International community and the African Union to address land rights and tenure security issues resulting from threats posed by Large-scale land investments.  In 2012, the Committee on World Food Security (WFS) under the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) adopted The Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. In 2014, African Union launched the Guiding Principles on Large Scale Land Based Investments in Africa which complement African Union Framework and Guidelines on Land Policy in Africa. These two documents are international and regional soft laws that can be used by member states, private sectors, communities, and civil societies to advocate for sustainable land investments and governance of tenure.  These instruments need to be read broadly and interpreted according to the country’s political economy. They are not one size fits for all! Private sector, Civil Society Organizations, the government, and communities need to discuss and interpret provisions of the guidelines. They can also provide indicators for what constitute free, prior, and informed consent or fair compensation based on Tanzanian situation.   As soft as they are, they can only translate into a binding law when domesticated to Municipal Legislations. They can also be used to persuade changes especially when best practices and evidence of their use are gathered from other regions. 

Change Land Rights Advocacy Approach through use of multi-stakeholder platforms: The conventional narrative is that advocacy is the work of civil societies. This approach may not lead to meaningful and far reaching results when the political economy is in favor of large-scale land investment as it is in the case of Tanzania. It is now a high time to consider using multi-stakeholder platforms, to engage the government, local communities, media, research institutions, donor community and private sector when advocating for policy reforms. We are in the era where a single donor supports the work of civil society, private sector, and the government. Similarly, we are in the era where the government is co-investing in large-scale land investment project with foreign companies which also receives funds from the same donor who funds the government. In situation like this the best approach is to engage all stakeholders in advocating for change. Civil societies must work as team when advocating for a matter that affects the community even when they have different areas of work because they are all working to improve the lives of communities. This may be very hard to implement but it is the only way they can make government and private sector accountable. Even policy makers – Parliamentarians should work as a team when addressing land and tenure security issues and should seek support from their allies in EAC, SADC, or in Pan African Parliament rather than attaching their political interests on things that matter to the general community.

Do not Forget Women and Gender Rights: “When it comes to land, women have a lot to say; they are at the forefront of demand­ing land rights.” This was the starting point for Hubert Ouedraogo of the Land Policy Ini­tiative, who gave a wide-ranging presentation on women’s land rights in Africa during the inaugural Conference on Land Policy in Africa. Indeed women play pivotal role in the whole agricultural value chain though they are inhibited by culture and traditions to have a say and title deeds to prove land ownership. Many countries across Africa, including Tanzania have non-discriminations provisions in their Constitutions. In fact, Tanzania’s Land Laws provide equal rights to land ownership for both men and women. This is however, not the practice. There are still cultural and traditional barriers which hinder women from land ownership. It is therefore the duty of every actor, be it; CSOs, the government, the media, and the private sector to ensure that women land rights are defended and protected. More study on gender dynamics and accountability in large scale land-based investments need to be done in order to understand the dynamics, the impacts, and adaptive measures taken by men and women in dealing with land investments. To understand gender issues, even among women rights professionals, studies and research on the subject need to be done continuously. A recent study presented at the conference in Addis Ababa shows that most women land rights professionals do not adequately understand International Human Rights Legal Instruments that protect women rights.

Partner with Media to push for reform agenda: Journalists who are well informed on land reforms, politics of large scale land-based investments, and the political economy of Tanzania can play important role in pushing reform agenda. Some associations of Journalists which address certain thematic areas such as; environment, agriculture, health, education to mention but the few, have expertise in the area of their coverage. Civil Society Organizations that advocate for land, human, and environmental rights need to form a solid partnership with interested individual journalists, journalist associations, and news editors. Then they should build the capacity of the journalists before they monitor their work. They can also provide more training on investigative journalism and offer award to committed journalists. Journalist can either on their own capacity or through their association create partnership with regional or international journalists or association for journalists for the purpose of knowledge sharing. In Tanzania there are cases where journalists have helped to uncover land deals which have violated or abused some of the provisions of laws governing land and investments.

Take Stock of Best Practices: Best practices are important tools that can be used to make a case for policy changes and evidence-based advocacy. Practices that shows best farming models, best land deals negotiated by community, land survey, registration and titling, their land, investors honoring their corporate social responsibilities, investments that do not exclude or force community away, sustainable small scale farming, safeguarding women land rights through customary process, environmental impact assessment, and access to justice by community or redress mechanism by communities, to mention a few. Civil societies, over years, have used best practices to advocate for changes. The most recent one which have gained international reputation is the “behind the brand campaign” by Oxfam International.

We need Agriculture for Inclusive Growth:  Agriculture which is centered to the majority producers and foster them to be self-sufficient is the one that lead to inclusive growth.  A country can never have inclusive growth when it gives more land to few people and cause landless majority. According to Prof. Ruth Hall, inclusive agriculture means

“avoiding big corporate takeovers of farming and value chains, and the food system as a whole, from production to retail. Rather, inclusion requires that agricultural growth helps existing farmers, traders, and others in the value chain to mitigate risk, to become more profitable and to scale up what they are doing. Inclusion cannot be only at the level of primary production. Inclusion means that family farmers must be able to access markets, by aggregating their outputs, and selling into value chains that are able to efficiently get produce to the growing numbers of urban consumers. Inclusive growth means there must be equity in ownership and income, which means that incomes from agriculture need to be reinvested to stimulate further growth in farming, in the rural non-farm economy and, through rural-urban linkages, into the urban food economy, to feed Africa’s growing and urbanizing population. Inclusive agricultural growth means that the needs of rural population must be achieved by meeting the needs of the urban population”.

Given the current political economy of Tanzania where the government advocates for green revolution through commercial large scale-farming, it might be hard for Tanzania to have inclusive agricultural growth. The main theme of the 2014 Africa Land Policy Conference was “The next decade of land policy in Africa: ensuring agricultural development and inclusive growth.” It was resolved in that conference that, Africa should appreciate and invest to its majority small scale farmer and it should discourage large scale land based investments that remove small scale farmers from their farm lands. Tanzania should therefore invest in improving infrastructure (roads and storage facilities), marketing, processing industry and agricultural inputs. Depending on foreign or local corporations to invest in commercial farming is tantamount to killing small scale farming.

More Research is needed: There is need for research institutions and civil society organizations to define research agenda on large scale land-based investment. Issues around financing, gender and accountability dimensions, impact of agriculture to the youth and the space of medium scale farmers need to be given a priority. For instance, in Kenya, Ghana and Zambia research shows that medium scale farmer occupy land which is bigger than the one in the hands of large and small scale farmers. Moreover over 50 percent of the land they occupy is undeveloped. Tanzanian research institutions need to replicate this study. Other areas which need research are, land rights of the commons, impacts of initiatives such as Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) and Big Results Now (BRN) in agricultural production, and agricultural models.

Engage Youth and make agriculture attractive to youth:  Studies in Cameroon, Madagascar, Zambia, South Africa, Liberia and Ghana shows that young people (those between 15-35 years) are not actively engaging in agricultural production. In fact they are running away from rural areas to seek better life in urban areas. Each country has its unique social, political and economic situation that affects youth interests in agriculture in their respective area. According to the 2012 National Census, over 60 percent of Tanzanian population is young (youth) - are they involved in agriculture, if not why? Do they own land? Is there specific policy that addresses their needs? Yet, unemployment is growing at unprecedented rate. What would be the implications of unemployment if the very same youth aren’t engaging in agriculture? Policy makers and Civil Societies in Tanzania should seek answers for these problems. At the conference, Youth African Researchers in Agriculture Network (YARA) was launched. YARA brings together young and early career African researchers in agriculture in order to cultivate the culture of supporting one another, sharing information, networking and collaborating for research projects, all of which contribute towards enhancing research capacity in agriculture on the African continent. I hope YARA will seek ways to maintain youth interest in agriculture and contribute in developing the body of literature on youth and agriculture in Africa.

More Readings about the 2014 Africa Land Policy Conference.

  1. Conference Website
  2. Blog post by Prof. Ruth Hall
  3. Blog post by Rebecca Pointer :
  4. Blog Post by Rebecca Pointer:
  5. Conference Papers and Presentations:
  6. Land Policy Conference Bulletin:
  7. Blog Post by Cyriaque Hakizimana:

[1] LBI Programmes Coordinator at Tanzania Natural Resource Forum. g.massay@tnrf.orgApril 25, 2015