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Rural Lands and Evolving Tenure Arrangements in Ethiopia: Issues, Evidence and Policies
[ TOC ] [ Abstract ]

There are important changes in tenure arrangements and practices since 1975 but with mixed performance. Among the positive attributes of these changes is the simplification of the complex tenure systems as compared to the pre-1975 period albeit questionable if such level of homogeneity has a desirable mix of tenure arrangements. A large segment of the farm population is able to access and operate land. There is a broadening of the land distribution of the country by shifting the concentration of landholdings towards the middle and lower-sized farm categories. There are incremental policy changes that include transfer land to heirs, titling of use rights, and relaxing restriction on rental markets in some regions. The constitutionality of some of these changes is, however, questionable since the 1995 constitution still prohibits any transfer of land other than through state mandated institutions.

On the other hand, there are increasing numbers of small-sized farms. Some of these are uneconomic in size. There are growing numbers of rural households with no access to government allocated land (“landless”). Insecurity of land and tree tenure effectively reduces rights in land, reduces incentive to invest in land and grow perennial crops, and limits growth in rental markets. There is also evidence of a widespread breakdown in common property tenure arrangements such as common grazing and forestlands for lack of effective institution to economize on and efficiently use these resources. The residence requirement for having and maintaining access to government allocated land fragments land markets and restricts migration as a strategy for diversifying income and pooling risks, and easing pressure on land.

The history of land policy sequencing since 1975 has been guided by an unbalanced policy framework with heavy emphasis on equity through administrative-based land allocation. A preferred path of policy development would have been to allow multiple channels of acquiring land, strengthen security of tenure and rights in land, promote rental markets as a main market-based mechanism, foster effectiveness of indigenous institutions to economize on scarce land resources in the commons, set norms and regulations for protecting fragile ecosystems, encourage labor mobility, and enhance development of factor markets in a context of broad-based agricultural and rural development. Public policy has an important role in the future, but it needs an informed and balanced view that emphasizes on searching for equitable but efficient and sustainable tenure arrangements that are mediated through the market place.