Practical measures to strengthen land tenure security in support of food security are required urgently
COMMENT | CHRISTOPHER BURKE | Climate change is real. Greater effort is required to improve land governance and agrobiodiveristy in order to strengthen resilience to deal with the adverse effects of climate change already affecting Uganda. Land is the primary resource for agricultural production. The majority of land is held under customary tenure and 70% of households derive their livelihood from agriculture. Land impermanence or the perception people have about the security of the land they use and/or live on affects how they manage and invest on the land.
Threats to land tenure security present clear and direct threats to income and food security. Recent studies in the Acholi and Teso Sub-Regions demonstrate that households with secure land tenure have better access to food and nutrition. Long term land tenure security of a household enable better land-use choices in terms of water and soil conservation practices and crop choices that determine nutrition outcomes for subsistence households where the primary objective for production is household consumption.
There is increasing recognition that reliance on a limited number of agriculture crops increases the vulnerability of households to climate change, agricultural pests and diseases. The unmanaged expansion of agricultural production contributes to deforestation resulting in the loss of natural habitats and the species these host with a direct impact on other sectors including tourism. The overexploitation of land resources and misuse of agro-chemicals degrades land and water bodies resulting in the loss of crucial biodiversity resources including beneficial insects such as bees that play a key role in sustaining ecosystems and agricultural production.
The maintenance of agrobiodiversity resources are critical to long term sustainability as opposed to the exhaustion of land resources for short-term gain. The more secure a household perceives their land tenure to be, the more invested they will be in the long term viability of their land and the implementation of more sustainable agronomic practices including better soil and water conservation methods, mixed cropping, tree planting and a larger range of seed varieties and application of fertilizer and natural pesticides that will increase access to sufficient and more diverse foods for household consumption and income to spend on other household needs including additional food needs. Land tenure is central in production decisions, biodiversity conservation, household food and income security.
With an annual population growth rate of 3.1%, Uganda’s population is doubling every 23 years. This is reflected in the fact that the average size of plots under cultivation has dropped by 50% over the past two decades, primarily due to land fragmentation. With the increasing pressures on land, the incidence of land related conflict is increasing.
According to the 1995 Constitution of Uganda and the 1998 Land Act there are four legally recognised land tenure systems in Uganda: freehold, leasehold, mailo and customary. Uganda is among the few countries in Africa to accord customary land tenure the same level of legal recognition as other forms of land ownership. The majority of land in Uganda is held under customary tenure with a significantly greater proportion of land held under customary tenure in rural areas. Land tenure has proved to be a key challenge to the implementation of many interventions focussed on agriculture and livelihoods. The Government of Uganda is nearing completion of the National Land Information System (NLIS) that provides a robust framework for durable and effective land governance. Plans are underway to connect this system with lower levels of government across the country.
Land conflicts among family members and immediate neighbours are far more prevalent than disputes involving government or investors. While the perceived drivers of land related conflict may be associated with poverty, climate change and protracted civil conflicts; regression analysis reveals that land tenure insecurity is primarily driven by household size, land size and low household income with higher levels of land conflict in some areas than others. Land related conflict has increased with 16% of households reporting a current in some areas due to the reasons listed above.
Local Councillors play the greatest role in resolving customary land disputes followed by clan members and neighbours. The first election of LCIs and LCIIs in July 2019 since the introduction of multi-party politics in 2005 made a significant contribution to the strengthening of local level land governance and dispute resolution. While Local Councillors play an important role in resolving land related conflicts, their understanding of relevant land legislation and appropriate conflict transformation methodologies can be further strengthened. The same applies to traditional leaders.
Food security requires that people have unhindered physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Approximately 12% of households in Uganda survive on less than two meals a day. Studies reveal that the number of meals is directly linked to land tenure security. The greater the land tenure security, the greater the food security of the household. Dietary diversity is another crucial aspect of food security and directly reflects household access to a variety of foods and the nutrient adequacy of the diet of individuals. Women of reproductive age and children below five years of age are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. The wasting of children under five averages 12%, stunting 29%, and underweight 16%. Again, direct correlations were established between nutritional intake and land tenure security.
At the same time as the demand for food and other land related resources increases, land is becoming increasingly scarce and fragmented. Furthermore, soil fertility across most of Uganda is fragile and requires careful management. The increasing variations in rainfall associated with climate change also necessitate improved management of water resources to strengthen resilience. Programmes that support the development of improved crops and livestock, mono-cropping and the application of agro-chemicals need to be cognizant of the environmental impact of these initiatives and the critical importance of biodiversity. Program content on land governance, land tenure security and transformation of land related conflicts can very effectively be streamlined into interventions addressing agriculture, food security, health and nutrition, agrobiodiversity and resilience.
Immediate action is required to implement the different international, regional and national principles, conventions and agreements on land governance, agriculture, climate change, health and nutrition, resilience and agrobiodiveristy. Prominent among these are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While certain aspects of these principles, policies and plans are being implemented; practical measures to strengthen land tenure security, improve conservation and ensure agrobiodiveristy in support of food security are required urgently.
Christopher Burke is the managing director of WMC Africa, a communications and advisory agency in Kampala, Uganda.