Ensuring our youths access land is key to transforming agriculture

22Sep 2020
The Guardian
Ensuring our youths access land is key to transforming agriculture
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Across the African continent, we are in the midst of a ‘youth bulge’, with people below the age of 35 constituting 65 per cent of the population. Tanzania is no exception, as people aged between 15 and 35 comprise almost 85 per cent of the workforce.

By Khadija Mrisho

In a country where agriculture is the backbone of the economy, young people have vast potential to make positive change. However, they need an enabling environment – a notably access to land – to do so.

More than 65 per cent of youths in Tanzania find employment in agriculture, but they lack the proper foundations and equal opportunities to reach their full potential. They face immense challenges when it comes to accessing access, as they are effectively precluded from participating in sustainable agricultural practices and using technology to improve production.

In the circumstances, the country badly needs to develop youth-responsive land policies and implementation to change this status quo.

I once met Madirisha (it was sometime last year), a man aged 28 years, married with two children, who had returned to his home village after working in Zanzibar as a labourer for a construction company.

He said he went to Dar es Salaam “because farming is just not paying and, besides, the land was not mine but it belongs to my father – which has been severely limiting my options as to what I should do on that land”.

Madirisha said he had managed to save enough money to send home to his wife, who had bought two parcels of land – one on which to build a house and the other for use as a farm.

“I am in no way planning to go back to Zanzibar, because I want to focus on farming now that I have my own pieces of land,” he said.

At least this young man was fortunate; he was able to overcome the challenges many youths face in accessing land for farming. A recent assessment of youth and land rights in Tanzania, published by Landesa, reveals that youth in Tanzania commonly encounter a myriad of barriers in accessing land of their own.

Policy makers and other stakeholders can take a number of proactive measures to help out the youth overcome these obstacles and, in the process, promote equitable economic development.

Land policy in Tanzania

Over recent decades, Tanzania has made significant strides to ensure land rights protection and security of tenure for its population, encouraging long-term investment in agriculture. To be sure, these policy reforms ensure land rights for marginalised groups such as women, but they fail to include provisions specifically targeting youth.

The country’s Constitution promises property rights and protection for all citizens, and various development commitments pledge economic involvement for the youth but fall short of proposing measurement indicators for the youth’s access to land.

The National Land Policy of 1995, Village Land Act, No. 5, and the Land Act, No. 4both of 1999 are the main instruments providing land rights and tenure systems to Tanzanians – yet none specifically integrates youth land rights or acknowledges the challenges the youth face in seeking land for development.

Yes, the National Agricultural Policy of 2013 and the National Strategy for Youth Involvement in Agriculture of 2016- 2021 note and appreciate the challenges youth face in participating in agriculture – including limited accessibility and acquisition of land – but again they are way wide of the mark with respect land rights for the youth.

The recently tabled Draft National Land Policy could be a valuable instrument to assess and address the youth’s unique land-related needs and challenges, and it is important that the policy be youth-focused and possibly be driven by the youth themselves.

Challenges to youth land access

Youth in Tanzania are often considered as ‘future adults’ instead of being within their own age bracket with unique capacities. Largely owing to this, they are often overlooked in laws and excluded from policy spheres.

A common mechanism for youth to acquire land is inheritance. However, this can involve extensive delays, resulting in lost time for youth involvement in agriculture.

Moreover, inherited land is often limited in terms of quality, size and location. Deep-rooted customary practices also discriminate against youth when it comes to inheritance of land, especially with respect to girls.

Strategies and policies in Tanzania commonly fail to align directives regarding youth land access, which can lead to confusion in practice, ultimately limiting youth access to land.

The very nature of land purchases or rentals also often presents serious obstacles to the youth. With remarkably undeveloped formal markets as land commoditisation grows, land market information is inadequate for youths interested in buying or renting.

Furthermore, youth face problems in financing land purchases, as financial lending institutions perceive youths as risky borrowers, and the youth therefore commonly lack collateral on the strength of which to access credit.

Youth and transformation of agriculture

Tanzania is at a turning point for youth land rights. Despite the obstacles currently preventing youth from accessing land, we know that youth involvement in agriculture offers great opportunity for advancing the country’s development. This is especially the case if and when they have secure land tenure.

Securing youth land rights can help control rural-urban migration and greatly improve agricultural productivity as youth employ climate-smart agricultural practices on their own land.

Youth also have significantly higher rates of mobile phone internet access than older age groups, and can therefore leverage this to utilise modern agricultural practices and connect to the internet to obtain beneficial information such as weather forecasts, market prices and agricultural tips.

To increase the youths’ access to land in Tanzania, the government must focus on formalising the rapidly growing land markets and regulating price negotiations for land sales and rentals so that youth can access land through markets.

The government should also facilitate youth financing by banks and other financial institutions through negotiations for special low interest rates for loans to help the youth acquire land. Creating formal youth groups to collectively access credit and land can also prove advantageous.

We would submit that it is crucial for the government to consider undertaking a review of all land-oriented policies and piece of legislation, while doing so through youth-sensitive lenses.

Such reviews can ultimately inform the development of youth-oriented policies with specific provisions prioritising the involvement of the youth in programmes that allocate land.

This could benefit the youth by linking them to access to land as well as related sectors such as information and communication technologies as well as entrepreneurship.

Perhaps even more importantly, the government must involve the youth more in all policy processes at all levels – from national one right down to the community grassroots one. Meaningful participation by the youth in decision-making will promote stronger youth access to land and other resources alongside better addressing the unique challenges facing the youth as a special segment of the population.

Furthermore, the youth need more consistent and comprehensive access to information regarding their rights to land and other resources. There will be meaningful progress only after the youth have a fundamental knowledge and understanding of their rights to land and the mechanisms through and by which to access them.

Ultimately, the potential of youth in Tanzania is immense. It is up to the rest of us to facilitate the opportunities for them and therefore to realise the transformation we need to see in the country’s social, political, economic and overall development.

Khadija Mrisho is a lawyer and land tenure analyst for Landesa Tanzania, an NGO, based in Dodoma.