A call to rethink the dearth of women landowners in Africa

A call has been made to the 54 member countries of the African Union (AU) Commission to increase the number of women who own land to 30% by promoting land policies that would address this issue within the next 10 years.

Speakers at last week’s land policy conference hosted at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa noted that 60% of land in Africa remains uncultivated.

With Africa’s population projected to double in 2050, the situation could prove to be dire for millions of families.

European Union ambassador Gary Quince remarked that the increase in Africa’s population by more than 100-million people in the past 10 years, and the importance of agriculture as a source of further economic growth, posed a challenge for land acquisition due to more demand.

He said an increase in conflict across Africa since 2009 had displaced many thousands of people from their lands and livelihoods.

Climate change
The pressure of land acquisition from large scale commercial operators is increasing, and the impact of climate change is becoming more apparent with increased incidence of drought and desertification”, said Quince.

The conference was organised by the Land Policy Initiative (LPI), a joint initiative of the AU, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the African Development Bank. Its aim is to “strengthen advocacy for comprehensive land policy in Africa through improved access to knowledge and information”.

There were concerns that the traditional authorities tend to sell land to multinational companies without consulting residents. In some instances, whole communities were evicted and not compensated.

ECA representative Stephen Karingi said Africans should seize the opportunities to attract foreign investors to their countries.

“The slowing productivity growth in agriculture globally, and the expected increase by an additional three billion in the middle class in the world in the next 20 years, is expected to create a demand for 175 to 200-million hectares of agricultural land,” he warned.

Gender and land
Social activist Gladys Sewah (52) of Ghana said her organisation, the Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development, fought for the rights of women who were excluded from owning land because of patriarchy.

Dr Nganji Namanjo said that women in Africa were mostly smallholder farmers with about two hectares of land. “It is possible to have the green revolution that is inclusive in Africa,” he said.

On Wednesday afternoon, a speaker had just wrapped up a talk on gender in relation to land, when Sewah raised her hand. She’d been taking down notes, and it was now time for the audience to ask questions. She wanted to know how governments could help to alleviate the plight of rural women. She wanted to know whether there was funding to sponsor “women projects”.

She said that as a young girl she saw women being physically and emotionally abused by their husbands.

“I told myself that one day I would do something about the plight of women,” she says.

Sewah also runs a school feeding project.

Rights of local people
Participants at the conference called for the inclusion of women in agriculture and land projects. Emphasis was placed on taking into account the predicament of women in African countries during the processes of land policy formulation and implementation.

Sewah said the targets were good, but doubted whether these would be achievable because of a deeply-entrenched system of patriarchy.

Community activists, academics, parliamentarians, land practitioners and researchers at the conference shared the same sentiment.

Dr Janet Edeme, head of division for rural economy in the AU, said: “Sometimes the large-scale investment could have a negative impact on the rights of the local people.”

One speaker said the exclusion of women from the control of land was anti-economic and undemocratic.

A document on the guiding principles for land policy implementation process was presented. One of the principles is about effective land governance policies, which ought to be put in place by countries to manage land issues. Dr Joan Kagwanja, who heads up LPI, said the document had already been adopted and endorsed by the agriculture ministers from the AU member states in April.

The dilemma faced by young people who want to venture into farming but are prevented in doing so by the system, is also a burning issue. According to the document, most young women in Zimbabwe did not benefit from the government’s land programme and, as a result, opted to migrate to South Africa for a better life.

Andisiwe Jakuda, a researcher from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said young people in South Africa had a negative attitude towards farming.

Rapula Moatshe is the 2014 Eugene Saldanha fellow for social justice reporting, sponsored by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) ­Southern Africa.

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