August 08 2018 Hend Behery

Land Reform in Africa: lessons from Nigeria and South Africa

Africa has more than 202 million hectares of uncultivated land, equivalent to almost half of the world’s usable uncultivated land. Despite this, Africa suffers from the highest poverty rate in the world with nearly 47.5% of the population living below the poverty line of US$1.25 a day (as of 2008). Poor resource management and improper governance of land have been the main hindrance to unleashing the potential of the agricultural land in Africa.

Recently, this untapped fortune attracted the attention of many international and African organizations. The World Bank report on “Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity” highlights many opportunities that Africa can make use of to achieve sustainable growth and eradicate poverty through scale-up programs and policy reforms. Such reforms are entitled to increase land productivity, boost food security and ensure inclusive economic growth.

The World Bank suggests a 10-step scaling up program to enhance land reform in Africa based on lessons learned from countries like Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia, and China. “Land governance is a proven pathway to achieving transformational change and impact that will help secure Africa’s future for the benefit of all its families,” says Jamal Saghir, World Bank Director for Sustainable Development in Africa[1]. The program builds on previous experience and adds customized solutions to address specific challenges in African countries, among which are the following:

  • Poor documentation that leads to land grabs by investors
  • Corruption and incompetent administration of land
  • Lack of expertise and need for capacity management

To overcome those challenges, and to ensure the reforms serve the purpose of sustainable growth, the steps suggested by the World Bank program include[2]:

  • Securing tenancy rights over individual and public lands
  • Redistribution of land possession, to include the poor and deprived majority
  • Improve land governance: enhance transparency, power decentralization, develop information systems and databases to ensure proper documentation and better mapping of lands
  • Adopt technology innovation to enhance efficiency
  • Capacity building: providing training and knowledge transfer facilities for better administration of land
  • Reforms of planning to ensure efficient use of the available agricultural capacity
  • Empower the rule of law to guarantee farmers rights and resolve disputes

Implementing these reforms would enable Africa to make use of its land resources to attract investments and achieve higher returns, which will lead to more growth and less poverty in the region[3].

Nigeria and South Africa have started their way through land reforms and below are lessons learned from each.

Nigeria Land Reform

Nigeria is the country with the highest population in Africa, 151 million representing 250 ethnic groups as of 2008. Nigeria’s agricultural sector is one of the major sectors contributing to the economy as it creates jobs for more than 50% of the rural population. The country’s total land area is estimated to be more than 910 thousand square kilometers of which almost 80% is usable for cultivating crops and livestock production[4]. 80% of the Nigerian rural population are farmers, however, the percentage of land used from the total land is only 33%. Limited public investment (less than 2% of government expenditures), corruption, need for land law reforms were among the main reasons behind the inefficient use of land in Nigeria[5].

Since land ownership is a major determinant in the use of land for agricultural purposes, the Nigerian government published the Land Use Act of 1978 to ensure land is accessible to all farmers in a fair distribution system. However, many reforms are yet to be implemented in the Act to ensure that it achieves its objectives. Building trust between government and people, and educating the public about the laws, procedures, and reforms are inevitable actions that the Nigerian government needs to consider to enable the country to achieve its mission to be one of the 20 largest economies in the world by 2020[6].

South Africa Land Reform

The need for land reform in South Africa has never been more crucial. The country has witnessed inequality in land ownership between the black majority and the white minority for ages. Reforms tried to address this challenge since 1994, but till 2011 reforms could only help in transferring 6.27 million hectares to the white minority, which is equivalent to 7.2% of the land already owned by the white in 1994[7]. This progress is too slow, and South Africa needs to fasten the pace of reforms implementation.

The case of South Africa makes it clear that reforms that do not target small-farmer needs will not be so effective in achieving sustainable growth. To ensure successful implementation, the government should involve civil society and provide enough support to farmers. Lately, many international organizations are trying to induce land reforms in South Africa to benefit from the country agriculture resources. Conservation South Africa (CSA) is working closely with governmental agencies to enhance farming practices to maximize productivity and achieve food security within the nation[8].

Hend BeherySenior Associate at Infomineo










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