Agriculture is a crucial sector in Ethiopia. The control of land has a deep meaning to Ethiopians, and over 80% of the population is employed in agricultural or related activities. Agriculture is a source of 45% of Ethiopia’s GDP. Moreover, the people in control of parcels of land need the produce they harvest to live, as most farmers in Ethiopia are focused on subsistence first.
Most of the people in Ethiopia’s rural areas depend on agriculture in some way to survive, but in Ethiopia, the State owns the land and distributes land usage rights to its citizens. This system creates challenges for rural farmers, but women especially suffer as a result, because cultural norms dictate that the use and control of land are “men’s concerns”. As such, even though women’s rights to claim and retain land are protected by Ethiopia’s laws, these laws are often not enforced, leaving women at risk of losing their tenure rights.
Photo by Gladys Savolainen
Furthermore, due to a number of issues that are too complex to explain here, vast tracts of land in Ethiopia remain undesignated and undeveloped, but the lack of land tenure security means that investment in agriculture is often too risky. This results in people utilizing the land they occupy in exploitative, damaging ways to derive a short-term benefit, as they feel a sense that the land they’re on is “here today, gone tomorrow”. The long-term economic development of the agricultural sector suffers as a result, which in turn poses challenges to the development goals of Ethiopia’s economy as a whole. Ethiopia wants to move from being an agrarian economy to a manufacturing-based economy, but it needs to walk before it can run. To put things very simply, Ethiopia needs to develop its agricultural sector in economic and commercial terms, so that the resulting economic growth can help fund its manufacturing developments. However, sustainable agricultural development takes investment by its stakeholders, and investment requires security.
Helping to address this issue is the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs investment in the Responsible and Innovative Land Administration of Ethiopia (REILA) project. Administered by NIRAS, REILA’s main goal is to improve the land administration system and thereby provide tenure security to the people who have claimed and registered plots of land. During Phase I, which ran from August 2011 to June 2017, the project focused on the Amhara and Benishangul-Gumuz regional states. Phase II has just been launched and runs until 2021.
Photo by Gladys Savolainen
REILA offered on-the-job training and technical training to various government employees in the Land Administration sector. Part of the project was also focused on upgrading the infrastructure used to do the land registrations. An IT system, the National Land Administration Information System (NRLAIS), was launched and adopted for use in the target regions; regional offices were upgraded; and vehicles were provided to enable efficient registration of land parcels.
An operational manual was created for surveyors carrying out the fieldwork, and higher education programs were established to further educate those in the Land Administration Sector. By the end of REILA Phase I, the Asosa ATVET College’s Rural Cadastre & Land Registration TVET programme had 74 graduates, 30% of whom were women. In addition, REILA helped launch an MSc program, which trained and yielded 53 experts within REILA’s partner institutions. These courses have been accredited by the Ethiopian government and are set for a wider implementation.
On the demand side, REILA engaged in various activities to increase awareness among farmers, including the launch of radio programmes in the Asosa and Lekemt languages.
As a result of these efforts, REILA offered an efficient, gender-equal process for registering land in its target areas. Of the approximately 400,000 land parcels demarcated during REILA Phase I, half were registered to women. This development represents a significant distribution of wealth to those women, which in turn offers them a huge improvement in their livelihoods and their families’ welfare.
Phase I was so successful that the Ethiopian government has formally adopted REILA’s methods for registering rural lands all over the country – about 50 million plots of land in total. You can read a personal story of REILA's impact here.
REILA has changed the mind-set of decision makers in the land administration and assisted to develop a harmonized system to register all the land in Ethiopia.
What does REILA’s future hold?
REILA II is focused on building on the strong foundations laid in Phase I. The main goals of this phase are to continue the roll-out of NRLAIS, and the continued monitoring and evaluation of the methods used by REILA to complete the land registrations. REILA also aims to further support the National Geospatial Information Agency in improving the national reference systems needed for more accurate land surveying, for instance in peri-urban areas.
In addition to the systematic improvements, REILA will continue in its focus on education and training by scaling up the TVET programme, funding a scholarship for the MSc programme, and by supporting short-term technical trainings for people tasked with the registration process.
Through its continued activities, REILA Phase II will aid in the achievement in the following of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals:
The focus on equitable and efficient distribution of land will help decrease poverty as per SDG 1.4. It will also decrease hunger as per SDG 2.3, as security of tenure allows for the sustainable cultivation of farm land.
Part of the equitable distribution of land involves ensuring that plots are registered to women as well as men, thus preventing discrimination (SDG 5.1) and ensuring women’s full and effective participation in the process as per SDG 5.5.
The land tenure security and the education that result from REILA’s process encourages stakeholders in the registration (including the farmers) to make use of sustainable practices to lessen negative impacts on the environment (SDG 13.3, 15.1, 15.2, 15.3, 15.4, and 15.5).