Domino effect - from land rights to human rights
In 1999, Tanzania passed the Village Land Act, creating a process of land registration which was intended to serve even the smallest land owner. Nearly ten years on, however, very little land has been mapped or registered and few people are even aware that the process exists. But in Iringa and Kilolo districts, over 900 villagers have applied for and been issued with customary right of ownership documents, following an intensive rights-based livelihood programme.
The process for registering land title under the Act is clear. For example, a farmer may first apply to the village land council, essentially the elders in the village, whose combined knowledge can verify who owns what land, and whether by purchase or inheritance. If the council endorses the claim it is sent to a village land registry, where the officer logs it as a formal application and forwards it to the district land department. District staff should then survey the land, draw a map of its boundaries and produce a certificate of ownership. But getting that system to work in practice is the challenge. According to Aswani Adams, Rights Based Livelihoods Programme manager of Concern Tanzania, very few village land councils or registries even existed in 2006, when the programme started, and the district land departments lacked the necessary surveying equipment to do their job.
From theory to practice
Following a baseline survey, the Programme's first step was to raise awareness among villagers about their rights to food and land under the Tanzanian constitution, and about the provisions of the Village Land Act. Fifty eight village land registries were then established across three districts, Iringa and Kilolo in central southern Tanzania, and Mtwara in the south east corner of the country. Each registry was given help in obtaining the official documents and seals from the Ministry of Land, enabling them to maintain proper records and authenticate any documents they issued. Village land councils, which had been absent in all three districts, were elected and trained under the Programme.
The baseline survey had revealed enormous frustration among the district land departments. Without transport or equipment they were unable to process applications, and open animosity existed with village authorities. Under the Programme all three land departments were supported in buying GPS units: modern surveying equipment linked to computers with map-generation software. Concern Tanzania also supported the departments in buying vehicles, and is providing ongoing grants to support running costs. Now able to travel and undertake their tasks of surveying and mapping, the working relationship between village and district has markedly improved, says Adams.
Land titles just a start
Surveying in Mtwara only began in December 2007, and as of August 2008 no certificates had yet been issued in the district. But in Iringa, 948 villagers have received certificates, and they are, says Adams, elated. "It has worked like magic in building their confidence. They look at life from a different perspective." He reports that those with land title have started to build farm structures on their land, "investing in themselves and investing in their key primary asset, which is land." Applications for land title have spread in what Adams describes as a domino effect. "When you survey your land, at least one boundary of your neighbour has also been surveyed, so it's like a bush fire that goes catching on."
Some have gone further, trying to use the land certificates as collateral to obtain loans from financial institutions. Many have failed, with most lenders refusing to accept the small sizes of land involved as sufficient guarantee. In response, Concern is now in dialogue with various lenders to try to have their conditions for loans amended. But success in claiming their land title has also motivated villagers to push for their rights in other areas, such as education and healthcare. This, says Aswani Adams, is proving that the Rights Based Livelihoods Programme's objective of using the right to food and land as a means to encourage the claiming of rights more generally, is being realised.
Date published: September 2008
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