Upholding customary land rights

 Possessing precious goods is worthless without proof of ownership.

However, the majority of the poor have no proof of ownership for their most valuable assets such as land, cattle and buildings.

Why should the poor be excluded from the benefits of land rights documentation?

This question has generated discussion on land reform, particularly regarding land registration in developing countries.

After colonialism, many African nations launched land reforms that primarily focused on the redistribution, titling and registration of rural plots mostly held under customary tenure to address rapid population increase, land disputes, landlessness and rising poverty.

Land reform has always piqued people’s interest as it is a highly sensitive, politicised issue with polarised media coverage.

For example, land distribution in South Africa and Zimbabwe has been used as a strategy to gain political foothold in rural areas.

In recent decades, most sub-Saharan African countries have overhauled their land policies and laws to address the lingering effects of colonial land policies, often attempting to uphold customary land tenure while also bringing informal land transactions into a formal and standardised land administration system.

After the restoration of democracy in 1993, the Government of Malawi appointed a commission of inquiry to investigate how public land, estates and customary land were being utilised.

In its findings, the commission called for the creation of a national framework for the management and administration of land and the formulation of the National Land Policy of 2002.

The commission made numerous policy recommendations to enhance tenure security, equitable access to land and effective land use.

Several administrative, institutional, and legislative reforms are underway in line with the policy. They include the review and passing of land-related laws and registration of customary land into customary estates.

Several public awareness campaigns are being conducted across the country.

Furthermore, most media outlets keep highlighting crucial provisions in the new land laws.

We pay attention to these mass awareness programmes as land users, familiarise ourselves and avoid the harsh implications of not following the law.

Many projects are also underway in Rumphi, Chikwawa, Kasungu, Lilongwe West and Nsanje to register customary land to customary estates.

The model chosen is to adjudicate, demarcate and record individual landholdings, a break from the communal land holding that has existed in customary contexts for so long.

As the saying goes, our land is not my land; what we own is not what I own; and what we value is valueless to me.

To protect our interest in land, we must participate in the registration process and make claims about the land parcels we own, with whom and to what extent or size.

This would significantly contribute to the preservation of land as a fundamental source of livelihood, intergenerational inheritance and natural capital from which people generate food and make a living. Land rights security is crucial for personal safety, home security and the protection of society’s most vulnerable groups, including women, children and the elderly. It protects both personal and the household socioeconomic security.

When there is no security of tenure, people are less inclined to invest in their farms or assets.

As a result, there is a decline in agricultural production, poorer housing and infrastructure conditions and a constrained land market due to the relatively small scope of transactions in the absence of legal papers.

One cannot obtain credit using unregistered land, a collateral for which there is no proven ownership and tenure guarantee.

Therefore, tenure insecurity issues may be resolved by registering land rights.

As a nation, we must fully support the registration process that is presently underway in various districts.n

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