The Country Engagement

Land for Life in Ethiopia

The Land for Life Initiative launched in 2018 with an overall aim of being a credible voice and center of excellence on land governance in Ethiopia. It is a process owned by all actors involved. As a multi-actor dialogue forum, policy makers, implementing government offices, civil society organizations, the academia, and the private sector come together to foster collaboration on land governance. A series of meetings was undertaken among the stakeholders which have discussed on key challenges and injustices resulting from weak land governance. This gave birth to a group of committed actors who continually assess the land governance context and reach out to more actors and initiatives and expand the space for dialogue and collaboration. In November 2019 Larger MAP Conference held at Bishoftu that mapped out key challenges on land governance in Ethiopia and set directions for the Steering Committee on priority policy interventions and the need to secure legal recognition for the initiative. Thus, by expanding the size and mix, and enhancing their capacities, the steering committee evolved, and got its license as a legal entity, Land for Life-Ethiopia as of 2021.

© Mulugate Gadissa/Welthungerhilfe November 2019, Bishoftu, Land for Life Ethiopia Steering Committee Meeting

Land tenure system

In general, the land tenure system established by the policy framework is considered inadequate. It is failing to accommodate the increasing demands on the land sector triggered by the rapidly changing social and economic circumstances. Economic growth and social change – which are taking place at a substantial pace even in the countryside – are putting immense pressure on the land sector. The tenure system in place is not dynamic enough to respond adequately.

Recently, the responsibility for implementing land proclamation was decentralized and transferred to provincial levels despite lacking clear protection regulations for land users. Moreover, there are clear gaps in the land law which make the implementation or enforcement very difficult. Social and economic changes in the rural areas are not considered. For example, many regional states land laws claim that anyone who is willing to live as a farmer will receive land free of charge even though there is no free land available. In addition, there are considerable information and knowledge gaps which constitute challenges for land administration.

Following the change of government in April 2018, the space for policy dialogue and civil society involvement in policy elaboration opened considerably. A new, more progressive NGO law was passed and a law on ‘Civic Engagement Policy’ that provides for “a participatory approach to governance” was drafted (November 2019). So far, the fruits of the reforms have yet to be seen because land governance and investment policymaking processes are neither participatory nor inclusive. Information about land reform processes and projects remain challenging to obtain. The current land laws were formulated and enacted without the participation of land users and key interest groups. Policy debates used to be confined to expert circles.

Land Rights in Ethiopia

According to the Ethiopian Constitution “the right to ownership of rural and urban land, as well as of all natural resources, is exclusively vested in the State and in the peoples of Ethiopia” (Article 40 (3)). Correspondingly, it is the State which controls land ownership. Rural populations and pastoralists are guaranteed with lifetime “holding” rights that give all rights except selling and mortgage rights. As this policy has been criticized as it discourages farmers from investing, the government introduced a program for land registration and land titling.

Although this has brought some positive changes through the reduction in land conflicts, it does not protect farmers from forced eviction by the state. The constitution is commended for its protection of land holdings against arbitrary state eviction by inserting a provision that gives “commensurate” amount of compensation during expropriation. However, successive implementing proclamations have violated this protection by denying market value (fair compensation) for loss of property.

Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

Capital: Addis Ababa
Population: 112 Mio. 
Country area: 1,129,300.4 km²
Agricultural area: 36%

(Source: World Bank, 2019)

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