Despite the achievement of Constitutional democracy in 1994, 'the land question' is at the heart of South Africa's struggles to overcome the cumulative legacies of nearly 350 years of white minority rule. The emotive quality of land policies evokes painful legacies fuelled by disappointments with the official land reform programme ushered in by the new Constitution of 1996. There is broad agreement that land reform programmes have not fulfilled their aims to significantly redistribute land and productive agrarian capacity, strengthen land tenure for the majority, and settle the restitution claims of victims of land dispossession.
Rwanda is a small country and landlocked. It covers an area of 26,338 km². In Rwanda, land is an important issue due to two different characteristics: first is that Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in the world (416 people per km2 – (NISR, 2012). Being an agricultural country, where over 85% of its working class citizens depend on agriculture, adds more pressure on land as the sole economic capital to the rural peasants.
Zambia has a bifurcated land tenure system which results from a legacy of colonial land administration. Under the British governor in 1928, Zambian land was divided into crown land and reserve native land. Later in 1947 the Native Trust Order was passed which gave birth to trust land. Crown land made up 6 percent of the country, while native and trust land both totalled up to 94 percent. After independence, crown land was converted to state land. Reserve native and trust land remained as such until the 1995 Land Act at which point these tenure types began being labeled as "customary" land. The Land Acquisition Act of 1970 inspired the ‘zambianisation’ (nationalisation) program, which sealed the deal of the 1975 Land (Conversion of Titles) Act that halted freehold tenure system in Zambia. All land in Zambia has since then been vested in the President, who holds it in perpetuity on behalf of the Zambian people.
Land has played a critical role in Tanzania’s development. Current land tenure frameworks, issues and conflicts in the country have historical roots dating back to the pre-colonial period. The periods of German and British rule were also formative in establishing current land sector rules and challenges, as has been the post-independence period. During the pre-colonial period, all land was owned communally and all members of the community had equal access. When the Tanganyika was under German Colonial rule (1891-1919), there were three types of land tenure: freehold titles created out of conveyance, leasehold granted by the emperor and customary tenure for natives. When the British took over (1919-1961), they recognized existing German laws and put in place new land laws such as the Land Ordinance of 1923. After independence, freehold titles were converted into government leases and later rights of occupancy.
Land is an important source of identity, symbol of social status and foundation for rural power in India, often carrying significant emotional attachment. With a long history, diverse geography and pluralistic culture, land governance has evolved in India through communal, imperial, feudal, colonial and modern systems, gradually moving towards individualization and conclusive titling.
Bangladesh is a densely populated country with a population of 163 million and a total land area of 147,570 km2. Arable land (hectares per person) in Bangladesh was last measured at 0.05 in 2011.
Land lies at the center of debates about Cambodia’s socio-economic development. For farmers in the fertile lowlands, private land ownership rights have enabled recovery of their livelihoods after decades of conflict.
Myanmar is in the midst of rapid economic and social change, with dramatic consequences for land tenure. Under the military regimes that ruled Myanmar since 1962, the state was the main landowner, either directly or (after 1988) via proxy companies.
A landlocked country of 7 million between the Mekong River and Annamite Cordillera, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR or Laos) has the lowest population density in Southeast Asia. Officially, over 81% of land is classified as forest, and only 6.5% is arable land.
With a large population and limited availability of land, Vietnam’s endowment of 0.3 hectare of agricultural land per person is among the lowest in the world.
Uganda is landlocked country located in East Africa with an area of 236,040 square kilometers (146,675 square miles) and a total land boundary of 2,698 kilometers (1,676 miles). It is a natural resource dependent country, and agriculture is dominated by small-holder farmers. Therefore, land is an essential asset for the population and national development. Consequently, government has turned its attention to law and policy reforms that address land-governance challenges, some of which emerge from historical injustices and the colonial legacy.
Kenya has a land size of 582,646 Square Kilometers, 97.8% comprising of land and 2.2% water surfaces. 20% of the land area is classified as medium to high potential land and 80% as Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL). Land has a central position in Kenya’s social, economic and political history. An estimated 75% of the country’s population depends on land for their livelihoods, making the ownership, management and control of the resource of great importance.
From large land acquisitions that displace communities without due compensation, to the encroachment of mining on indigenous lands, to the brunt of climate change and natural disasters, to everyday land and property deprivation by kin or state, women are typically more harshly impacted by land tenure insecurity due to discriminatory laws and lingering social bias.
With the expansion of cities and urban infrastructure comes a growing need to better understand the relationship between people and land in urban and peri-urban areas.
Producing food for the world’s growing rural and urban populations starts with agricultural land. Reducing current high levels of hunger and malnutrition, as called for by the Sustainable Development Goals, will depend on land use decisions and governance from the global to the local level. Although about 40 percent of the world’s land is used for crop production and pasture, today some 800 million people remain food insecure and as many as 2 billion are malnourished. Achieving food security requires physical, social, and economic access to safe and nutritious food.
Responsible forest governance and forest tenure security are crucial in helping to reduce deforestation, combat climate change, and sustain the planet.
Investments in agricultural land may be essential for achieving food security and promoting economic growth, but what are the potential costs and benefits for local landholders and the environment?
Conflict is a major cause and, in some cases, result of humanitarian crises. Conflict frequently overlaps with underlying social inequalities, poverty and high levels of vulnerability. Conflicts are direct threats to food security as they cause massive loss of life and therefore loss of workforce (which is particularly important, as agriculture tends to rely heavily on human labour), loss of vital livestock, and loss of land. Conflicts displace millions of people each year, often forcing them to flee with nothing and making them extremely reliant on the communities that offer them shelter and humanitarian aid. This can place unsustainable pressure on hosting communities that often face high levels of food insecurity and struggle to make ends meet.
With secure land tenure, Indigenous Peoples and local communities can realize human rights, achieve economic growth, protect the environment, and maintain cultural integrity. For centuries, Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs) have used, managed and depended on collectively-held land for food supplies, cultural and spiritual traditions, and other livelihood needs. Historically governed through customary tenure systems rooted in community norms and practices that often go back centuries, governments often consider such community land as vacant, idle, or state-owned property. Statutory recognition and protection of indigenous and community land rights continues to be a major challenge.